The popularity of poetry is growing nationwide; here's where you can get your fix in London
Words Helen Brown
Why is poetry trending?
It’s a massive undertaking to continue to write poetry in a society where the very concept of reading is minimal. We are no longer the London of the 20th century when Langston Hughes and Ezra Pound graced the literary circles. But after a tumultuous 2016, more and more people are turning to poetry to express their thoughts amid the chaos of 21st century living.
Speaking to Wired, America’s fifth inaugural poet, Richard Blanco said; “Our language has become watered down in sound bites and social media. Poetry takes back language, reenergizes it and reinvigorates it in a way that a post doesn’t. Language offers a kind of consolation because it speaks truth and it speaks hope and it speaks all sorts of things you won’t get from a tweet or a newspaper or a post.” Poetry is creeping out of the far, dusty corners of popular culture.
Poetry revived for the modern day
With this in mind, a number of publishers are bringing poetry to the contemporary masses. Penguin’s iconic Modern Poets series, which was first launched in the early 1960s with the writings of authors from Lawrence Durrell to Stevie Smith, has been revived to introduce a new generation of poets. The thinking behind it was to “introduce contemporary poetry to the general reader.” Every volume in the new series again brings together the most exciting voices of our moment. Both seasoned fans and curious readers alike will enjoy this revamped series.
London based publishing house Faber & Faber also have an extensive collection of poems made popular with beautiful covers and limited edition binding. Their collection encompasses everything from Emily Dickinson and T.S.Eliot, to Wordsworth and Keats. They even have a huge range of fun volumes for the little ones.
Modern day poets
Centuries ago, poets were like rock stars. They were widely celebrated for their insights and graceful way with words. Homer, Rumi, Dante and Shakespeare left literary legacies that continue to this day. Now their work jostles for position amongst the newbies on the circuit. Warsan Shire is one to note. She is a Somali-British poet whose words feature in Beyoncé’s groundbreaking album, Lemonade. At the age of 25 she became the first Young Poet Laureate for London.
Hera Lindsay Bird is another of poetry’s rising stars. She has become a cult favourite for her explicit, cutting and funny writing. Her poems such as Monica – about Monica from friends – and Hate exploded onto the New Zealand literary scene. Her Twitter followers are in the thousands and include British singer-songwriter, Lorde.
Similarly, Rupi Kaur uses Instagram as her primary platform. She is a Canadian feminist poet, writer, and spoken word artist. The traction she gains from posting her work online has touted her an “Instapoet.”
Contemporary platforms for poetry
Contrary to Blanco’s theory, social media does have it’s place in this new era of poetry. Kaur’s popularity is testimony to that. Sites such as Youtube and SoundCloud are also modernising this age-old art form. These platforms bring spoken word and performance poetry into the public consciousness. Performers such as Kate Tempest, George the Poet and Jess Green use them to share their voice and their work. Festivals such as Glastonbury and The Last Word, have also helped.
London’s eateries are also getting a slice of the action. Burberry hosted a live poetry reading event at their flagship store cafe. Greta Bellamacina hosted the event at Thomas’ Cafe. She welcomed readings from pals Gala Gordon, Robert Montgomery and Sai Bennett.
Additionally, The Poetry Cafe from the Poetry Society also offers stellar events. These range from weekly to occasional or one-off. For newcomers, or those wishing to read, Poetry Unplugged is London’s premier open mic session. New comers can get up for the first time or experienced poets can try out something new. The cafe is closed for refurbishment at the moment, but is definitely worth checking out for it’s relaunch.