It can be difficult to introduce poetry to teenagers. Despite the fact that poetry has everything angsty, adventure-hungry teenagers are attracted to — ample potential for expression, opportunity to be playful and curious and the ability to convey complicated emotions — a lot of young adults shy away from this genre, thinking it too stale or archaic.
Developmentally, this is a time in their lives where they are exploring who they are and their place in the world more consciously than ever before. They will gravitate towards that which resonates with their own experiences and allows them to explore and express that in new and interesting ways. This is why the key to getting teenagers interested in poetry is to find collections that are all about them.
Here are seven poetry collections for teenagers that are easily accessible, genre-bending and have the potential to turn any reader into a poetry lover.
The teenage years are a time filled with sadness, madness, joy, and a lot in between. Sometimes it feels that every day brings a new struggle, a new concern, a new reason to stay in bed with the shades drawn. But between moments of despair and confusion often come times of great clarity and insight. Teenagers are much more insightful than society often gives them credit for. This collection introduces readers to the likes of Charles Bukowski, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, Edgar Allen Poe, W. B. Yeats, Dorothy Parker, Jane Kenyon, while also including teenage writers and up-and-coming poets. This collection is the starter pack for future poets and poetry lovers.
Using the structure of a poetry slam, Nikki Grimes’ award-winning novel is a powerful exploration of self, an homage to spoken-word poetry, and an intriguing look into the life of eighteen urban teens. This is a great collection to introduce teenagers to the art of slam poetry while also combining a compelling narrative to keep their attention.
In vivid poems, Jacqueline shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, making this a perfect choice for the teenager in your life. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
In eighty-two poems and paragraphs, Naomi Shihab Nye alights on the essentials of our time—our loved ones, our dense air, our wars, our memories, our planet—and leaves us feeling curiously sweeter and profoundly soothed. Teenagers of all ages will find these poems engaging, relatable and short enough to keep their attention span.
With teenagers’ love of the internet, they have most likely come across Rupi Kaur’s words on Pinterest, Instagram, or Twitter. Milk and Honey is a great collection for teens to delve into since they don’t have to spend hours and hours grueling over complex imagery and metaphors. It takes the time to tell a story—an excruciatingly moving and relatable one at that. Milk and Honey challenged literary elitism by proving that poetry can be accessible to most people, which has caused an undeniable spike in the popularity of the genre.
Another poet who has made her mark on social media is Amanda Lovelace. Her self-published debut, the princess saves herself in this one, tells the story of surviving child abuse. Told in four parts, “the princess,” “the damsel,” “the queen,” and “you,” Lovelace pieces together her life while exploring love, loss, grief, healing, empowerment, and inspiration.
Gretchen Gomez, an asexual Puerto Rican woman currently residing in the Bronx, self-published this beautiful poetry collection about rising from the depths of an abusive relationship. These poems touch on issues such as sexual assault, anxiety, depression, cancer, and healing. This is the perfect collection for fans of Rupi Kaur who seek more feminist work of the same style penned by women of color.
Leav, a Chinese-Australian poetess who I have officially nicknamed The Modern-Day Emily Dickinson, fuses the rhyme schemes of the past with the beautifully simplistic language of the present in this collection about love, loss, and longing, making her work accessible for teens of any age. With illustrations through this collection, Leav shows her talent for translating complex emotions with astonishing simplicity.