5 Unforgettable Poetry Collections to Read If You Loved Boygenius’s the record
Boygenius, the supergroup composed of alternative singer-songwriters Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus—all standout artists in their own right—has been taking over streaming charts, TikTok algorithms, and even the cover of Rolling Stone. The group’s first full-length album, the record, released March 31, instantly introducing listeners to new favorite songs that blend the band’s characteristic honesty, lyricism, and emotion.
With a song titled “Leonard Cohen” and another titled “Letter to an Old Poet,” it’s clear that literature served as a major inspiration for the project. If you can’t get enough of the searching, self-reflective songs on the record—which often read like stanzas ripped from a late-night journaling session—then you’ll love these five poetry releases that similarly explore relationships, mental health, philosophy, and more.
In many ways, the record is a testament to the staying power of love and grief. From the track “We’re in Love” asking “If you rewrite your life, may I still play a part?,” to “Revolution 0” asserting “If you’re not enough / Then I give up / And then nothing is,” several of the songs allude to relationships that transformed the artists’ lives and world views. These songs also consider the narratives we create about our relationships, and how art makes time nonlinear—we can live in these moments again and again, returning to them with our current knowledge and wondering what other choices we could have made. Short Film Starring My Beloved’s Red Bronco shows the speaker reckoning with a relationship that has had a lifelong impact, continuing to write to their late lover decades later and carrying them into the future. The collection also has deep themes of gender and queerness which resonate with the record.
As its title suggests, Love Is a Place But You Cannot Live There delves into place as a concept and a theme, with multiple settings playing a vivid, detailed role. Throughout the collection, the open road, the fringes of a city, and a coastal vacation spot serve as characters in their own right, pushing the collection’s speakers to confront relationships and loneliness. This place-oriented imagery is ever-present in the record, too. In the standout single “Emily I’m Sorry,” the speaker and her lover are “coming back from where no one lives,” creating a sense of togetherness in the midst of a sprawling, solitary universe that carries through the whole song. In “Not Strong Enough,” the song opens with the lyric and setting descriptor “black hole opened in the kitchen,” leaning into the magical realism that also characterizes Love Is a Place But You Cannot Live There.
Track eight on the record is titled “Leonard Cohen,” appropriate considering that he was also known for writing heartfelt, folk-tinged music with lyrics at the core. In the song, the music of Leonard Cohen serves as a way for the speaker and her new love interest to connect. Any fan of Boygenius will gain an even deeper admiration of their music by absorbing the work of some of their influences, including Cohen. Book of Longing stands out as a fantastic introduction to the musician and poet, blending his eroticism and his dark humor. The collection is also made up of work from the period of Cohen’s life that the Boygenius song alludes to—a period where he spent five years living at a Zen monastery.
Religion and spirituality have been a major theme in the solo work of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus—just think of the arc of Baker’s debut album, Sprained Ankle, Bridgers’s reckoning with the afterlife on “I Know the End,” and Dacus’s single “VBS,” a nod to growing up going to vacation Bible school. This theme continues in their collaborative Boygenius work, with the refrain of “Not Strong Enough”—on which their overlapping voices sing “always an angel, never a god”—sounding straight out of a harmonious, crescendoing worship song. God Themselves, the debut poetry collection by award-winning spoken word poet Jae Nichelle, packs a similar sonic quality and channels the rhythms and lyricism of gospel, just as Baker’s music pays homage to hymns. Like Boygenius, Nichelle finds both comfort and harm in the traditions she was raised with, using her past as a starting point and ultimately creating a more expansive definition of God and of spirituality for herself.
It’s clear that for the members of Boygenius, unentangling their art from their lives proves nearly impossible. Instead, their music and songwriting become lenses through which to see the world and touch each of their experiences. On “Letter to An Old Poet,” Bridgers sings, “You said my music is mellow / Maybe I’m just exhausted,” and on “Revolution 0” she asserts, “You wanted a song / So it’s gonna be a short one,” acknowledging how a romantic partner knows her through her music before they know her personally, and how declarations of both love and heartbreak come out in her work. Rachel Mannheimer’s Earth Room, selected by Louise Glück as the winner of the Bergman Prize, traces similar connections between art and life, with sculptures, performance art, and ecological art serving as ways to explore the ideas of gender, history, and even the end of the world itself. Mannehimer also grapples with the question of where the line behind one’s real self and the self that emerges in their art begins and ends, or if this line even exists at all.
Wanting more poetry-inspired music recs? Check out our roundup of collections to read if you loved Taylor Swift’s Midnights.