Pitchfork has this video series called Over/Under: in an episode, an artist or band gets a random set of subjects and things. They then have to say whether that subject or thing is overrated or underrated, with a little bit of explanation about why they feel that way. If I had my own episode of that video series and the subject was “reading poetry,” I’d say it’s deeply, deeply underrated. I’m an avid fiction and non-fiction reader, but I often find poetry to be much more compelling when it comes to presenting an idea or figuring out emotions.
Most people shy away from it because it seems like too much of a brain workout, but I guarantee you’ll feel much better about yourself and your skills the more often you do it — just like a physical workout. I promise that there are poems out there that you’ll like, despite the poems you were forced to read in high school and hated. I also promise that in the poems you think are too esoteric, like Shakespearian sonnets or long epics, you’ll find some aspect of relatability. The more poetry you read, the more you’ll figure out who and what you like.
In honor of World Poetry Day, I’d like to share a few poems that I constantly return to or think about — even though my days of studying poetry in a classroom are behind me. Every time I reread these, I find new facets of emotional fortitude. I think you will too.
Alice Walker‘s “Be Nobody’s Darling”
Be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Take the contradictions
Of your life
And wrap around
You like a shawl,
To parry stones
To keep you warm.
Watch the people succumb
With ample cheer;
Let them look askance at you
And you askance reply.
Be an outcast;
Be pleased to walk alone
Or line the crowded
With other impetuous
Make a merry gathering
On the bank
Where thousands perished
For brave hurt words
But be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Qualified to live
Among your dead.
Nikki Giovanni‘s “What It Is”
if it’s a trail we can hike it
if it has two wheels we can bike it
if it’s an allergy we can sneeze it
if it’s a pimple we can squeeze it
if it’s dew it “covers Dixie”
if it’s Tinker Bell it’s a pixie
if it’s a breeze it can blow us
if it’s the sun it can know us
if it’s a song we can sing it
if it flies we can wing it
if it’s soda pop then it’s drinkable
it might be X-Rated by that’s unthinkable
if it’s a boat we can sail it
if it’s a letter we can mail it
if it’s a star we can let it shine
if it’s the moon it can make you mine
if it’s grass we can rake it
if it’s free why not take it
if it’s a tide it can ebb
if it’s a spider it can web
if it’s chocolate we can dip it
if it’s a golf ball we can chip it
if it’s gum we can chew it
I hope it’s love so we can do it
And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
And her mouth on a valentine.
She has more hair than she needs;
In the sun ’tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of coloured beads,
Or steps leading into the sea.
She loves me all that she can,
And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine.