7 Poets To Add To Your Bookshelf This Poetry Month

Poetry — often considered the oldest form of literature, predating the written word by several millennia — is still as relevant as ever. From love poems to elegies, and ancient epics to poems of protest, resistance, and revolution, the far-reaching power of the poetic form allows us to cut through the cacophony of life and focus on what really matters. In honour of Poetry Month, celebrated every April in the US, Canada, and increasingly in India, this reading list includes seven old and new poetic voices from Mirza Ghalib to Meena Kandasamy, and Maya Angelou to Perumal Murugan who interrogate the politics of love, religion, fear, and anger in their work, and offer insights into our brief, precarious, gorgeous existence on earth.

Red Doc > by Anne Carson

When he is there they

lift the stones together.

The stones are her lungs.

In Red Doc> — a genre-defying collection of prose, poetry, and drama, and the spiritual sequel to her 1998 novel-in-verse Autobiography of Red — Anne Carson returns to the red-winged Geryon (now simply called ‘G’) and follows him into manhood and through the complex labyrinth of the modern age as he travels with his war-veteran friend and lover Herakles, now called Sad (short for ‘Sad but Great’) and Ida, an artist, across a geography that ranges from plains of glacial ice to idyllic green pastures, and a psychiatric clinic to the sombre house where G’s mother is awaiting her death. A thoroughly modern reimagination of Greek poet Stesichoros’ 6th century BCE lyric poem ‘Geryoneis’ — based on the myth of Geryon and Herakles — Red Doc> was awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2014.

Temple Lamp by Mirza Ghalib

Oh you carefree (man),

work lies ahead.

forests and mountains — 

both lie ahead.

You must go surging forth

like a deluge;

you must cross

wilderness, deserts, forests alike.

Although best known for his Urdu ghazals and shayaris today, Mirza Ghalib himself preferred to write in Persian — so much so that the body of work he produced in Persian is far greater than the body of work he produced in Urdu. Chiragh-e-Dair — a ‘masnavi’ or long poem written in rhyming couplets — is an excellent example of the poet’s work in Persian. An evocative and eloquent ode to Banaras — the city Ghalib once called ‘Kaaba-e-Hindustan,’ or ‘the Mecca of India’ — the poem gives us a never-before-seen look at the ancient city’s spirituality and ecology, its natural and physical beauty, and that of its people in the early 19th century — all in Ghalib’s own Persian words, masterfully translated into English in its entirety for the first time as Temple Lamp by poet, translator, and academic Maaz Bin Bilal in 2022.

Songs Of A Coward by Perumal Murugan

Let’s talk

I tell those who come to kill me

in my dream

And they agree.

A collection of passionate, elegiac, angry, tender, and nightmarish and courageous poems written during a period of self-imposed exile from public life by the Tamil poet, writer, and scholar Perumal Murugan, Songs Of A Coward — translated from the original Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan — is the triumphant return of a master and an enduring testament to the resilience of an imagination under siege and the liberating power of words at times of immense personal turmoil. Murugan wrote the poems collected in this edition at a time he was under relentless attacks and death threats from right-wing Hindu caste-groups after writing One Part Woman — a novel about the social traditions and sexual customs of the Kongu Vellalar Gounder caste in Tiruchengode, Tamil Nadu.

Poems by Maya Angelou

On a bright day next week / Just before the bomb falls

Just before the world ends / Just before I die

All my tears will powder / Black in dust like ashes

Black like Buddha’s belly / Black and hot and dry

Then will mercy tumble / Falling down in godheads

Falling on the children / Falling from the sky

Tender, joyous, sometimes sad, sometimes painful, but always profound in their wisdom, African-American poet, memoirist, essayist, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou’s poems are a revelation. Born Marguerite Annie Johnson in 1928, Maya Angelou became a poet and writer after a string of odd jobs during her young adulthood which included fry cook, sex worker, nightclub performer, actor, director, television producer, Southern Christian Leadership Conference coordinator, civil rights activist, and correspondent in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa. Her poetry resonates with themes of identity, race, love, and empowerment, capturing the complexities of the human experience with unmatched eloquence and grace. From the iconic ‘Still I Rise’ to the introspective ‘Phenomenal Woman,’ the Bantham edition of ‘Maya Angelou: Poems’ offers readers a glimpse into the depths of the poet’s unmatched intellect, resilience, and mastery of the craft.

Invitation to the Voyage by Charles Baudelaire

See on these canals those sleeping boats whose mood is vagabond; it’s to satisfy your least desire that they come from the world’s end. —Setting suns reclothe fields, the canals, the whole town, in hyacinth and gold; the world falling asleep in a warm light.

Then, there’s only order, beauty: abundant, calm, voluptuous.

A towering figure in French literature of the 19th century, Charles Baudelaire epitomized the essence of modernity and the complexities of the human experience through his poetry, criticism, and essays. Born in Paris in 1821, Baudelaire’s work often explored themes of beauty, sexuality, decadence, and the urban beauty and decay of 19th-century Paris, reflecting his fascination with the duality of our existence. This new English interpretation of Baudelaire by award-winning translator Beverley Bie Brahic — which includes poems from his celebrated volumes Les Fleurs du mal, Les Épaves, Le Spleen de Paris, and Paradis artificiels, as well as several of his prose poems and an excerpt from his famous essay on wine and hashish — introduces readers to the many faces of Baudelaire, from the sensuous and the compassionate to the bitter and the desolate.

Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong

… I reached for him. I reached — not the bull —

but the depths. Not an answer but

an entrance the shape of

an animal. Like me.

In Time is a Mother, Ocean Vuong’s second collection of poetry, the Vietnamese-American poet embarks on a poignant exploration of memory, identity, and the passage of time among the aftershocks of his mother’s death — embodying the paradox of sitting within grief while also being determined to survive through it. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, and raised in Hartford, Connecticut, Vuong’s work grapples with themes of displacement, intergenerational trauma, and the search for belonging. From the succinct line arrangement and the breathless absence of full stops in poems like ‘Dear Rose’ to the vivid imagery of flying bullets, corpses, gunshot wounds, and bread dipped in condensed milk and the fermentation of fish — there’s something about these poems that demands the entirety of the reader’s attention.

Tomorrow Someone Will Arrest You by Meena Kandasamy

Tomorrow someone will arrest you. The police will prepare
a list of names. Anyone who’d protest will be named.

Tomorrow Someone Will Arrest You, the prolific Tamil poet, essayist, author, and activist Meena Kandasamy’s new collection of personal and political poems written over the past 14 years, includes poems of hopeful resistance in the face of political oppression and tyranny. Since her last collection of poems, Ms. Militancy (published in 2010), Kandasamy has written extensively and candidly on caste and sexuality — including details of her legal battle against her abusive ex-husband — stood against laws that put restrictions on free speech and banned the consumption of beef in certain parts of India, and defended her position with a trademark fiery disposition. Divided into sections titled ‘The Poet’, ‘Her Comrade,’ ‘Her Lovers,’ ‘Her Friends,’ and ‘Her Country,’ this new collection, however, introduces readers to unexpected moments of tenderness in her work — reaffirming Kandasamy’s belief that loving and caring for each other is the only way forward in these times of great social and political inequalities and injustices.

Pick up any of these 7 Poets for Poetry Month from any Kunzum store or WhatsApp +91.8800200280 to order. Buy the book(s) and the coffee’s on us.

Drishya Maity

About the Reviewer:

Drishya is a writer + artist based in Kolkata, India. He was shortlisted for the Mogford Prize for Food & Drink Writing and nominated for the BBA Photography Prize – One Shot Award in 2022. He is @drishyadotxyz on Instagram and Twitter.

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