Final National Poetry Month Shout Out: The Great R.H. Sin!

Well guys, here it is, my last poetry post of national poetry month. I’ve had loads of fun doing these, and I came up with enough material, that I really feel I could start up a whole blog on poetry. Hmmm… a project to consider, perhaps. For now though, I want to close out my National Poetry Month round of posts by promoting another poet that I just stumbled into and grew very fond of; R.H. Sin.

R.H. Sin is another poet who was able to find success first through building a fan base online. Like most other Instagram and social media poets, the medium allowed him to also present a visual side to his art, specifically his work as a photographer. It can be  easyto think of work being shared on social media as amateur. Isn’t everyone a photographer on Instagram? Can’t anyone just post poetry online? Well, yeah. That’s what’s so great about this whole medium. Personalities like Sin, like Rupi Kaur, like Michael Faudet and others can rise to prominence on the strength of their vision, speaking to a wide range of people, touching them with a voice and vision that’s in touch with it’s audience because there’s a real intimacy between followers and creators online. I felt that intimacy just reading Sin’s work.

I picked up R.H. Sin’s Whiskey, Words and a Shovel II mostly for the title, I’ll admit. It’s a very compelling title, and the “II” suggested that he had used it before (he did, there are now three WW&S’s out,) realized that he could never come up with a cooler title for a poetry collection than that, and decided to keep it. Yeah, he probably had other, more legitimate reasons regarding artistic vision and all that that made him choose the title, but that’s what stuck in my head when I first saw it, and I have no regrets admitting it. Really though, I should probably get into the meat of his work. This far in and talking about the titles of his books is probably taking things too slow.

Reading Sin is a gentle, reassuring experience. If Rupi Kaur’s writing is a cry for healing, Sin is more of a gentle murmur. He’s constantly reassuring his reader, or perhaps some other person that exists beyond the poem as we experience it, that it’s okay to want better things for yourself, that you have worth, are a survivor, and deserve to be happy. That actually made it a really great read for me after a long day, when I needed some sort of pick me up.

It’s really easy for poetry to be spit-fire agitating, or else flowery and romantic, but Sin’s work isn’t quite either all the way. These loving poems aren’t outpouring odes of devotion, but rather calm and spare reassurances. They are not diatribes about overcoming toxic, unhealthy relationships, but reminders that you deserve to and are able to overcome these tough times. I definitely don’t want to knock down either style I just compared Sin’s work to, but I felt like his work did something just a bit different from so many other poets that’s I’ve read, and it’s something I didn’t know I needed until I found his voice.

So I’ll be going back to more standard prose and so forth book reviews next week, next month already. I’m glad I had such a great final recommendation to finish off this month with. I encourage you to continue to seek out poetry beyond this month, and beyond what I’ve suggested here. Yeah, most poetry sections in bookstores are deplorably under-stocked, but I think you’ve noticed by now that a huge wealth of modern day poets are setting up shop online. Go ahead, check out sites like Instagram, Tumblr, Wattpad, etc. and see if you can find a voice that speaks to you in ways you didn’t know you needed to be spoken to, find something that moves and fulfills you in the best possible. That’s what poetry can do, and I hope you get to bring more of that into your life.

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Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey and Poetry’s Modern Landscape

When I first tried to describe Rupi Kaur’s book Milk and Honey to someone, there was a bit of a misunderstanding.

“So she’s a poet. Her book was a New York Times best seller.”

“Wait, so it’s not a poetry book?”

“What? No, of course it’s a poetry book! It’s a poetry book and a New York Times bestseller.”

“What?”

Yes, it’s almost an oxymoron. A poetry book that is a huge, massive commercial success. So how did Kaur do it? I was surprised as anyone when I saw one book of poetry move from the small shelf hidden in back of bookstores that’s usually reserved for poetry to the front of the store, with the James Patterson, John Grisham and other best seller books. I was happy, but I wanted to know, how did this woman do it? If I figured out what lead to her success, could I figure out what kind of future poetry had? I’m sure many publishers were looking at the same numbers and trying to make their own, greedy calculations about the very same thing, but I’m looking for more than money here. I’m looking for a future where something I love is less irrelevant.

The thing is, it’s silly to talk about Kaur’s path to success like it’s some secret to crack. While she first started writing for her own private needs to heal from a traumatic experience, one you can witness yourself in Milk and Honey. She writes very earnestly about healing after a sexual assault, and people found her words and accompanying line drawings really spoke to them.

You can see her work, and the many people discussing how it speaks to them, on her various social media accounts, though Instagram is probably the platform where she became the most famous, as a part of a movement of poets using visual elements in presenting their work on line. Lang Leav and Tyler Knott Gregson, among others, have also found success, including their own book deals through this route. Their widespread success shows that the power of a vast, quickly created network through social media definitely shows the first step to success in a modern poetry landscape. Rupi Kaur’s book, though, has gone beyond the popularity of that realm even,with just this month marking a million of her books being sold. What other factors, then, are making her work excel?

We live in a fiery age for identity politics. I’m talking about the politics surrounding someone’s race, gender, orientation, that sort of thing. As a woman of color herself, and one that writes to capture a traumatic experience that and reclaim her identity as a woman who can have relationships, sexual and romantic, without fear. This book speaks to people because of how well she captures an experience that has touched far too many lonely lives, yes, but also because she is speaking about things that people are finally ready and  willing to bring out into the open; intersectional feminism, misogyny and sexuality. When I see such honest work like Kaur’s, it makes me pretty glad that we do live in this age.

Milk and Honey is only Rupi Kaur’s first book, and with her popularity, I doubt we’ve heard the last of her. I hope poetry continues to capture readers’ imagination and grow in popularity. With Milk and Honey very likely being an essential piece in that process, I’d be silly not to honor it on National Poetry Month.

Kevin Coval, Chicago & the Poet-Rapper Connection

For this first poet profile of National Poetry Month, I’ll be boosting awareness of someone close to home, Kevin Coval and his latest poetry book, A People’s History of Chicago. Coval is a Chicago area poet and community builder, going out and teaching people the power of expression through poetry. In walking the beat, so to speak, for his work, he’s learned the feeling of Chicago inside and out, which made him capable of producing quite a comprehensive history in his book.

Coval turns out pieces on every notable Chicago figure from the city’s founder, Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable to Kanye West to the Daley dynasty, looking at the history of corruption, the African American culture of the city resisting erasure and the moments of the city that are beautiful for horrible and/or wonderful reasons. The printed words on the paper seem to be spat out with poetry slam energy, a very contagious passion. This energy explains why the book has a forward from Chance the Rapper, a Chicago native himself, for those of you who don’t know. Coval’s work, especially in this exploration of urban Chicago life is an excellent example of the many ways poetry and rap can be kindred spirits.

I sometimes joke that poetry and rap are nothing alike because you can actually make money as a rapper. Fans of rap are always quick to correct me, to declare that rap and poetry are close siblings in the world of words. Well, if you’re stubborn and financially irresponsible enough to want to call yourself a poet, then you’ve really fulfilled the most important part of actually being a poet, caring more about your words and message than practical things like money and your parents being proud of you. So yes, by my personal estimation, rappers are poets, but it becomes even more apparent in practice.

Substantive rappers such as Chance himself, who says Coval taught him “what it meant to be a poet,” create work I couldn’t readily separate from the modern, quick on it’s linguistic foot work poets like Coval make. Often, on further ends of the spectrum, people see rappers only going on about pouring champagne onto stripper booties and poets who only dole out  dreamy spaced-out, cryptic phrases that no one understands. Those polar opposite stereotypes make it seem like the genres should be totally opposed, and yes some types of poetry and rap are very dissimilar, but Coval and artists like Chance the Rapper are artists who use the force of what their medium does to their words to create images and stories what they’ve seen and put some power into their frank, open discussion about issues inherent in their critically undervalued environment and experience.

Coval’s work shows he feels rapper musicians and straight up poets are equally deserving of praise and a part in his People’s History, including both Chief Keef and Gwendolyn Brooks. Where other people might think to raise one of these characters above the other, view them as distinct, different, Coval honors them both in his poetry, showing how they all are playing a part in the same game, a part in keeping the African American community in Chicago alive.

For National Poetry Month, I really hope you guys will check out a seriously talented poet who knows how to write about a city that’s near to my heart. Reading Coval will teach you about the city of Chicago and the power of poetic style in confronting a gritty, urban life, and you get to simply enjoy reading some truly engaging poetry.

How to Celebrate National Poetry Month

Hey everybody, happy April! As you may or may not know, April is National Poetry month, a month to celebrate an art that is far to invisible in this modern world, if you ask me. Naturally, then, I’m a huge fan of April, not just for the weather that’s finally turning decent, but for the valid excuse to encourage everyone to read more poetry, discover more poets (ones who haven’t been dead for centuries would be best,) and maybe even help you find a new favorite in this underappreciated genre.

National Poetry Month isn’t like Hanukkah or Christmas though; there’s no set of traditions that we all know and love to properly celebrate this sort of season. People who aren’t that familiar with poetry might not even know where to start. That’s why I’ve picked a couple good ways to start out your Poetry Month celebration.

Pick a Poet Who’s Still Alive and Read Their Stuff

One major problem with how a great deal of people understand poetry comes from where they might’ve last read it; school. Beyond the occasional Hallmark card, most people rarely read any poetry outside of what they were forced to read in school. I feel that academic resentment, but just leaving behind a genre after high school means you miss out on a medium that’s evolved immensely since the centuries old Whitman or Byron you read in Honors  English.

Sometimes I even see aspiring poets, (myself included at one point) make the mistake of assuming everything about poetry froze in the 19th century, because educational coverage of poetry after that is spotty at best. Sure, poetry was generally overtaken by the novel in that century, but poetry has also quietly grown and changed with the rest of the world as well. Our educational system just doesn’t like to to honor poets that haven’t been dead for a few centuries. Use this month of increased visibility for poetry to check out some contemporary poets, who have voices you’ll have a much better time reading and relating to, as they’re written in your own language and dialect.

I’ll be writing more about my favorite poets this month, but to start you off, some cool contemporary poets who were still alive last time I checked include Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Rupi Kaur, and Lang Leav.

Look for Poetry Resources Online

I follow the Poetry Foundation online. They’re a pretty old and venerable organization that publishes a well known poetry journal. Online, they do a lot to reach out to people. You could check out their podcasts, or subscribe to get a newsletter and a poem a day in your email, which is a cut above the spam that normally gets blasted into my  inbox by other organizations. If you live in or near Chicago, their headquarters, you can use the newsletter to learn about events they are holding and attend them.

You also have sites like Poetry Out Loud, which focuses on poetry that’s recited or performed. It’s got a good mixture of old and new works on display, and tips for people reciting poetry themselves. This showcases the dynamic community that’s formed around making poetry live by performing it. They also have teaching resources and information about their poetry performance contests as well.

There are also sites like poets.org or poemhunter.com, which help you find any specific poem you might be looking for. poetry.org is great for looking up poetry by the poet, while poemhunter.com allows you to explore poems according to themes or forms. Each one is dedicated to sharing poetry in it’s own special way.

Poem in Your Pocket Day

This is where we start to get Inception like, with a holiday within a holiday. On April 27th, choose a poem to carry around on a piece of paper folded up inside your pocket, taking it out and sharing it with people whenever you can. It’s a cute idea of a holiday created by the Academy of American Poets to increase awareness of National Poetry Month. There’s a number of posts and sites dedicated to creating cute little templates and layouts. With all the poets and poems you found thanks to the previous two steps, you should have no problem finding a poem to share.

Those are just a few ideas that will hopefully help you start your National Poetry Month off right. I hope you will use this April as an excuse to explore poetry, find new things you like, and share them with people that could use a little poetry in their lives. You’ll be hearing more from me about poetry this month, so keep an eye out for more poetry recommendations and reviews.