5 Poetry Collections For People That Don't Like Poetry | #NationalPoetryDay

By Lucy Harbron - 18:35

Of all the art forms, poetry is one that most intensely falls victim to gate keeping. So many people are scared away from the poetry section of Waterstones by imagined bodyguards, setting made up rules about what makes a poem a poem. They hold up difficulty as a measure of goodness, use tradition and genre as a sword to scare off the casual reader, like you must dedicate your life to the form or die. And who are we kidding, it’s usually men, stood there defining what’s worthy and what’s not, stomping on the Rupi Kaurs of the world to keep the genre elite, keep their egos in check.

But if there’s a hill I’ll die on, it’s that poetry doesn’t have to be difficult in order to be beautiful and artistic and worthy, that the average reader should be able to switch between fiction, non-fiction and poetry without stress, reading what they want without feeling like they need some kind of secret passcode to enter the poetry club. And I know, it’s easy to be scared of, especially when for so many people the word poetry brings up nothing but big scary names like Keats and Browning, but underneath the big boy scary surface of the tricky classics, there’s a beautiful pool of glorious collections that don’t need a PhD to decipher.

Here are some of my favourite easy-read collections that are perfect for people that say they don’t like or don’t get poetry.

#1 The Book Of Longing - Leonard Cohen

I’ve talked about this book to death, in the same way that my copy is in tatters. Gifted to me before I had any real interest in Cohen as a musician or really knew anything about him at all, The Book of Longing was the first collection that introduced me to the scrappy lyrical write-and-go style I love. Full of drawings and handwritten notes, this collection pull together some of Cohen’s greatest lyrics alongside some of his silliest throw away pieces. If you’re looking for a collection to dip in and out of, something with every emotion under the sun from beautiful learning poems to comedic quick-witted 2 liners, Cohen’s work is a great place to start. His style is at once both traditional, often sticking to strict rhyme schemes, but is really fresh in its content, so you know you’re reading poetry but it keeps you on your toes.

In general, I think lyric / poetry books are great places to start with poetry. Loads of incredible musicians have books full of their lyrics and unreleased drafts that let you dip your toe into poetry without being completely baffled, as well as letting you get a more intimate understanding of an artist.

#2 Ten Years In An Open Necked Shirt - John Cooper Clarke

You’ve probably heard the Arctic Monkeys cover of I Wanna Be Yours, putting their own musical spin on the famous John Cooper Clarke poem. JCC is a perfect example of a northern poet, infusing his work with human and slag to the point where you find yourself putting on a Manchester accent while reading. Gaining fame in the late 70s punk era, John Cooper Clarke’s punk poet style doesn’t take itself too serious, and this collection gives you the best of this work with some more traditional works like A Heart Disease Called Love mixed in with his sillier, more characterful stuff like Evidently Chickentown.

You could analyse it for themes of class, or you can simply sit back and enjoy, maybe even listen along to one of his albums.

#3 Couples - Michael Stewart

I can’t tell you where or why I picked this collection up, but Michael Stewart’s Couples is one of my favourite collections I’ve ever read. His style is so simple but really sensory, full of beautiful descriptions that use every day images and sensations to ground the feelings in the norm rather than trying to be difficult. I think it’s that relatability that allows the collection to be totally flooring, managing to make you feel euphoric and heartbroken in a short amount of pages.

The special thing here is the layout. The poems are placed in pairs, or couples, where the pages of a spread are in dialogue with one another. As the collection looks at love, loss and co-dependency, I like that this layout gives you different perspectives without complicating the poems. Instead you get a collection of beautifully written, relatable and engaging pieces that are layout like a series of mini stories. If any collection is going to prove to you that poems don’t need to be difficult in order to be considered art, this is the one.

#4 Rapture - Carol Ann Duffy

I’m here to defend Carol Ann Duffy. While GCSEs curriculums have black listed her name, Rapture was one of the first collections that made me love poetry after seeing her perform it when I was like 15. While being quite classically poetic, packed full of metaphors and imagery and whatnot, Rapture is easy and relatable in its raw emotion. It’s a love story told through individual pieces, following an affair from start to end. When I saw her perform she talked a lot about Rapture as a kind of diary which pushed me into my forever love affair with confessional poetry, I like the idea of taking day to day emotions and hyping them up into something artistic and big.

I also think Rapture is a perfect gateway collection, feeling like a nice welcome into the world of poets like Sylvia Plath in the way that it etches out relatable emotions with big imagery. But Rapture feels very approachable, always giving me the feeling that these were words wrote in the moment in a notepad by a real person, rather than a meticulously crafted and produced piece from a mythical poetry god. So pick up a copy of this next time you have a crush or you’ve had your heart crushed and read it cover to cover like a book, finally free from the pressure of having to annotate it for your exam.

#5 Early Works - Patti Smith

It wouldn’t be a Lucy Harbron book post without including Patti Smith. But her Early Works is the book I’ll grab if I’m running for a train, being both a full and easy read. Patti Smith’s work is like an introduction to imagery, I feel like I’ve learnt so many references simply by reading her work, as she never leaves you wondering what she means. And what I mean by that is if she throws in a random Greek hero’s name, her work is so well done and so emotive that you can always figure out what they stood for.

She believes in everything I stand for, chucking the poetry rule book out of the window as her work is all about writing from personal passion and drive. Always dealing with real humans, real human emotions and real moments in cultural history, she doesn’t overcomplicate the point she’s trying to make. Similar to Cohen, I also love that you get glimpses of her songs in this collection, going even further to make it more approachable and easy reading as you can hear the soundtrack in the background.

‘Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine’; she says it better than any classic poet could, it doesn't need to be hard.

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