When people think “poetry,” different images spring to mind, either of the stuffy old poets you read in high school, or of cigarette-smoking mustaches in black turtlenecks speaking dramatically about politics in front of a brick wall with a spotlight. However, since it is World Poetry Day, which was instituted in 1999 by the United Nations to promote reading and creativity around the world, we think it’s a good idea to take a look at some contemporary masters who are changing the game with creative subject matter, language and ideas that are modern and inspiring. So get ready to do some spring cleaning for your brain with our new poetry reading list!


play dead, francine j. harris (Alice James Books, April 12, 2016)

Detroit native francine j. harris doesn’t hold anything back in her poetry. Raw, evocative and unapologetic, her punchy imagery challenges readers to piece narratives together in a shattered and violent world.


Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ocean Vuong (Copper Canyon Press, April 5, 2016)

This stirring debut from Ocean Vuong offers lingering examinations of American life through the eyes of an “other.” His poetry addresses histories both social and personal with visceral, dreamy language.


A Woman of Property, Robyn Schiff (Penguin, March 8, 2016)

Richly imaginative, Robyn Schiff’s latest poetry collection is set in a gothic yet vulnerable landscape plunged in menacing illusion. Based on some of her previous work, this collection is definitely worth picking up.


Rapture: Poems, Sjohnna McCray (Graywolf Press, April 5, 2016)

This highly anticipated debut collection by Sjohnna McCray won the 2015 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. It uses mythic language to explore generational and personal identities, found in cultural and wartime memories, with uncommon elegance.


So Much Synth, Brenda Shaughnessy (Copper Canyon Press, May 10, 2016)

Brenda Shaughnessy’s poetry is bitingly smart, playfully erotic and weirdly subversive in all the right ways. In her latest collection, she pokes fun at the experiences of her youth.


The Big Book of Exit Strategies, Jamaal May (Alice James Books, April 12, 2016)

Jamaal May is an award-winning poet whose work uses dark humor and expansive metaphors to address strikingly personal social issues. This is his second collection of poetry, after a widely praised 2013 debut, Hum.


Look: Poems, Solmaz Sharif (Graywolf Press, July 5, 2016)

This debut collection by Iranian-American poet Solmaz Sharif expresses her family’s narrative history in the wake of warfare by examining the concept of violence against language. As heart-wrenching as they are intriguing, these highly anticipated poems are beautifully devastating.