In honor of World Poetry Day, we’d like to highlight five iconic poets that you probably know about and five that you should get to know!
An avid supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, writer, poet, and activist Nikki Giovanni is best known for her poems about black consciousness and racial injustice. Her body of work ranges from calls for provocative revolution to poems for children and intimate personal statements.The artist proudly flaunts the word “Thug Life” which is tattooed on her inner arm as an homage to the late rapper, Tupac Shakur.
Best known for her most famous work, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” Maya Angelou had a broad career as a singer, dancer, actress, composer, educator, and San Francisco’s first female black streetcar conductor, but became most widely known as a writer, editor, essayist, playwright, and poet. As a civil rights activist, Angelou worked for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Brooks’ first poem, “Eventide,” was published when she was just 13 years old. She quickly became one of the most widely known and respected authors and poets of the 20th century. The influential poet made history when she became both the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize and to serve as a poetry consultant to the Library of Congress.
Lucille Clifton’s work often highlighted endurance and strength through adversity, focusing particularly on African-American experience and family life. Clifton was the first author to have two books of poetry chosen as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969-1980 (1987) and Next: New Poems (1987). The legendary poet was also known for the lack of capitalization and punctuation in her writing, which became a trademark of her work.
A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, ism, classism, and homophobia. The writer published her first poem in Seventeen magazine while still in high school. Lorde began to use poetry as a mode of communication in her early teen years in order to better express her feelings to others.
Waheed has published two books of poetry titled salt. (2013) and nejma (2014). Her poetry revolves around the themes of love, identity, race, and feminism, and are categorized by her use of punctuation, lowercase letters, and the brevity of her words. After finding it difficult to first publish salt., Waheed decided to self-publish even though her work was highly criticized at the time. She has since built a loyal following on social media, particularly on Instagram, where she currently has over 611,000 followers. Her work has been covered in publications like Vibe, Essence, and Teen Vogue.
Alexandra Elle is an author, wellness consultant, and creative freelancer. Alex’s voice and words are being shared globally in the form of self-love. Her passion for storytelling, poetry, and narrative writing are infused with life lessons, self-celebration, and building community through literature & language. She is the author of Words From A Wanderer, Love In My Language, and Neon Soul, as well as #ANote2Self Meditation Journal, Growing in Gratitude Journal: 150 Days of Giving Thanks, and Today I Affirm: A Journal That Nurtures Self-Care.
Cleo Wade is an artist, poet, and author of the best selling book, “Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life.” Her work speaks to the power of self-love, the impact of beloved community building, and the importance and social justice. Cleo writes for the New York Times, Teen Vogue, W Magazine and her popular Ted Talk: “Want to change the world? Start by being brave enough to care.” was released in spring of 2018. She has created large-scale public art installations across North America including most recently in New York’s Times Square on International Women’s Day.
Yrsa Daley-Ward is a writer and poet of mixed West Indian and West African heritage. Born to a Jamaican mother and a Nigerian father, Yrsa was raised by her devout Seventh Day Adventist grandparents in the small town of Chorley in the North of England. Her book, “bone”, was described by fellow poet, Nayyirah Waheed as “a symphony of breaking and mending. she lays her hands on the pulse of the thing. and gives wide air to the epic realities of women.”
Warsan Shire is a writer and poet from London. Her debut pamphlet, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth was published in 2011 and has gone on to be a Bestselling Book of Poetry. She won the Inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize in 2013 and in 2014 she was appointed as the first Young Poet Laureate for London. In 2015 Warsan released a limited edition pamphlet Her Blue Body and in 2016 did the film adaptation and poetry for Beyonce’s visual album, Lemonade.
Source: Poetry Foundation