What's On the bookshelf: 4 books for budding poets
Shall we compare the(s)e books to a summer’s day…
If language allows humans to communicate better, poetry allows a state of transcendence; dimensionally, culturally, and in terms of thought. And you don’t have to sit away from society to meditate to achieve this transcendence, you just have to read. So how is poetry different from prose?
In his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth says poetry is “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” In this way, poetry can be considered a mix of intuition, emotion, and craft, with each element varying every time a poem is written.
It is a human attempt to understand ourselves better, and in the process, each other. It’s where we empathise without having to explain too much.
No dramatic gestures, no battles, no anger, just a series of precisely placed words. That is how it stands separately from prose.
Before we wrote words on paper, stories were passed in oral tradition and often they were poetic. Our ancestors followed the beat, the rhyme of life to etch history without having to maintain records.
So it is only natural that today, spoken word as a form of poetry continues to remain popular. If you’re eager to dip your toes into the exciting waters that can be poetic expression — written or performed — our friends at the Emirates Literature Foundation have got you sorted.
Here are four poetry collections that will both move and inspire. After all, the first step to artistic expression is that initial creative spark.
And if you’re eager to see some of the UAE’s best poets in action, make sure to go check out the upcoming Crossroads event at the Theatre of Digital Art on 25 July, which will feature an exciting line-up of multilingual poets, each of whom will be performing against a backdrop of calligraphy, depicted in the modern art style of graffiti.
Everything Comes Next by Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye has the most elegant way of putting basic facts down. She writes about onions as gracefully as she does about kindness and nostalgia. Nye finds the odd amusing and she speaks with ease and accessibility. In the first section, ‘The Holy Land of Childhood’.
She creates a voice for children through her own childhood and by observing other’s’. In the sections, ‘The Holy Land that Isn’t’ and ‘People Are the Only Holy Land’ there are touching poems about Nye’s father, the land they came from, its loss and the one they went to.
Through these poems, whilst expressing her indignance about loss she also reveals that the true holy lands are the people. The story of the old Palestinian woman at the airport in ‘Gate A-4’ is a great example.
What is great about Nye’s style of writing is that her poems are not just paying tribute to people or things, but they are little instruction sets for us to become better poets.
As she says, ‘Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us/we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock / in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite. / And let me know.’
Tiger Work by Ben Okri
Ben Okri’s shift to climate writing comes with urgency. It’s a take on that far-fetched concept of a dystopian world we see in movies. He combines fiction, essays and poems to create a fantasy world that needed urgent action.
Notes and letters that were left by extinct occupants of Earth have been encountered by another life form in the universe while making a round across different worlds. It is, perhaps, if not an intentionally, a shout-out to astrophysicist Carl Sagan who had spent a lifetime investigating life beyond our earth.
Okri offers advice (or a warning) to his intended readers at the beginning of the book: ‘Read slowly.’ The diary entries and letters can be considered letters of innocence and ignorance.
They create a picture for humans to take quick action in a world that’s getting warmer and weaker. Okri sounds a wake-up call for us all when he says, ‘Not for a single moment during their relatively short history did they see themselves as part of a universal order. This sense of cosmic nobility eluded them.’
Talking to the Wild: The bedtime stories we never knew we needed by Becky Hemsley
Becky Hemsley is a self-published poet with a particular focus on children’s poetry but really it is poetry that everyone can relate to. She is known for her viral poem Breathe on Instagram.
It is a poem about a girl trying to be herself in a world that asks too much of her. Hemsley’s poems offer a connection to the natural world and one feels a connection to its rhythm through Hemsley’s pieces.
She mostly writes in verses of four lines which provide for a trusting structure. Hemsley addresses the topics of courage, confidence, self-belief, and love in her poems.
‘Listen’ touches on the Earth’s distress and is a poem that stands on par with ‘Breathe’. Talking to the Wild is a great gift for young budding poets!
Wound is the Origin of Wonder by Maya C. Popa
Maya C. Popa knows the bittersweet language of love but not without hope. ‘Begin again in darkness, life says sometimes’ she directs her readers. She begins by stating that the word ‘wonder’ and ‘wound’ are said to have the same roots.
Her poems are a meditation on this fact Popa has learnt and one can experience the wonderment and bewilderment it has caused her. We experience feelings of desolation, we deal with death, we get to tamper with time (yes in a transcendental way) and witness the persistence of life.
Popa balances internal dilemmas and reflections well with the natural world, a theme we notice across all poetical endeavours on this list.
Popa plays with the wounding and wondering of the soul throughout her poems, exploring the human need perhaps to arrive to ourselves when she says, ‘Often, I received more than I’d asked, / Which is how this works—you fish in open water / ready to be wounded on what you reel in’, and only then does know the difference between being alive and really living.
Thank you for reading. Do share with your friends and read aloud to each other! If you do enjoy spoken word and performance poetry, sign up for Emirates Literature Foundation’s upcoming community night in partnership with TODA, taking place on 25th July 2023.
If you enjoyed today’s selection of book recommendations from Namal Siddiqui, the Community Events Manager at the Emirates Literature Foundation, then don’t miss their other bookish content on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Or sign up for one of their five official book clubs!