5 Poetry Collections to Pair With Hozier’s Unreal Unearth
In the four years since his last album, Wasteland, Baby!, folk singer-songwriter Hozier has taken inspiration from the pandemic, social isolation, and life’s contrasting highs and lows. He calls his latest album, Unreal Unearth, which was released this month, his way of making sense of the last few years. Though Hozier has always been known for drawing on literature, mythology, and classics as inspiration, Unreal Unearth has proven to be his most literary record yet, as the concept album directly references and reinvents the classic epic poem Dante’s Inferno.
Like all the best poets, Hozier draws on juxtaposition—darkness and light, Heaven and Hell, life and death—and somehow sharpens these universal, well-worn themes with his quintessential imagery and specificity. For even more lyricism once you’ve listened through Unreal Unearth, check out these five related reads.
Dante’s Inferno by Dante Alighieri
It might seem like an obvious pick, but the best way to gain a deeper understanding of Hozier’s Unreal Unearth is to go directly to the source that inspired it. A favorite of English professors, Dante’s Inferno was written in the 14th century and continues to have an enduring influence. It’s been referenced hundreds of times across films, fiction, video games, poetry, and other mediums, including in works by Samuel Beckett, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot. In the classic text, Dante goes on a journey through Hell that spans nine “circles of torment,” a trajectory that Unreal Unearth retraces.
“Perhaps confessions by poets, of what Dante has meant to them, may even contribute something to the appreciation of Dante himself,” T.S. Eliot once wrote. This anthology, featuring essays and works by W.H. Auden, Seamus Heaney, and William Butler Yeats, among others, pays tribute to this legacy. Readers will discover the relevance of Dante’s Inferno and see the widespread, diverse way poets and writers have reinterpreted it across centuries.
Eating in the Underworld by Rachel Zucker
Before she hosted Commonplace, one of the best poetry podcasts of all time, Rachel Zucker wrote and won the Strousse Award for Eating in the Underworld, a powerful, epistolary collection that—like Unreal Unearth—draws on and reinvents myth. Just as Hozier gets into the mind of fabled characters, Zucker’s poems inhabit the experiences and emotions of Persephone. Zucker illustrates the darkness and surrealness of the Underworld and establishes it as a battleground for Persephone’s selfhood and transformation. The poems in Eating in the Underworld strive to create an urgent, embroiled sense of being trapped between two universes, an uncanny experience that Unreal Unearth also leans into.
Hozier’s Irish identity and upbringing have always been a cornerstone of his music. Unreal Unearth is notable because it marks the first time Hozier has sung in his native Irish language on an album. The stand-out track “Butchered Times” criticizes the attempted erasure of this language through colonialism, and in an interview with The Irish Times Hozier discussed how creating music in Irish allows him to access deeper themes. Caitriona Ní Chléirchín’s The Talk of the Town is one of the most acclaimed recent releases in Irish poetry and is similarly informed by cultural mythology and a profound sense of place.
Pillow Thoughts by Courtney Peppernell
Unreal Unearth is a play on the hero’s journey, a common storytelling format that features milestones like transformation, atonement, and a return to one’s home or oneself. Hozier channels opposition throughout the record’s 16 tracks, exploring both his darkest and most joyful subject matter yet. Pillow Thoughts, Courtney Peppernell’s best-selling poetry collection, travels through a like-minded and relatable arc, with 10 different sections representing common emotions and experiences like heartbreak, loneliness, and restlessness.
Wanting more music-inspired poetry recs? Check out our article of collections to read if you loved Boygenius’s The Record.