You’ve probably read the headlines: “Poetry is entering a resurgence” or, “Poetry Is Dead. Every year, one of these arguments seems to take over the literary world, causing celebration or panic. The truth, of course, falls somewhere in between. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, an estimated 28 million people read poetry in 2017, representing a 76 percent increase for the genre’s popularity since 2012.
But fiction still wins out, topping more bestseller lists and accounting for 126 million readers a year. Today, poetry still has many stigmas and misconceptions to battle, like insistence that the art form is too dry, elitist, or intellectually draining. Novels, which people regularly read on the bus or at the beach, rarely receive such harsh criticism.
I’ve encountered this in my own life. Even many of my friends and coworkers who are writers and voracious readers tell me they “just can’t get into poetry.” But poetry can be just as much of a page-turner as fiction, or, even better, it can keep us glued to a line or stanza, paused in reflection. Believe it or not, there’s probably a poetic equivalent of a recent bestseller you loved.
The Hate U Give catapulted to the top of The New York Times Bestseller List and stayed there for more than 80 weeks, meanwhile winning a Goodreads Best Young Adult Fiction Award and inspiring a film adaption. The book garnered praise for its searing, deeply personal examination of race relations, police brutality, and similar issues.
Don’t Call Us Dead confronts many of these same topics. In the Forward Prize for Best Collection winner, readers see an afterlife for black men shot by the police, then must contend with how this violence continues here on earth. It earned praise from Tracy K. Smith, current U.S. Poet Laureate, and well-known essayist Roxane Gay.
Han’s teen romance captured all of our hearts with its sweetness and whimsy. The protagonist, a high school student, has written a letter to every boy she’s ever loved and then kept it in a vintage hat box—is that poetic, or what?
Perhaps the most endearing thing about Han’s book is its insistence that love stands out as worthy subject matter. With Giovanni’s aptly titled Love Poems, she makes the same powerful assertion. Han’s characters also show their love in small, unconventional ways—think Lara Jean giving Peter her favorite scrunchie. In Love Poems, Giovanni reflects on love in all its little, daily details.
Atwood’s modern classic The Handmaid’s Tale, equal parts horrifying and fascinating, imagines a dystopian world that reduces women to their fertility.
Our Lady of the Ruins also takes place in a dystopia, with female voices and themes at the forefront. It follows a group of women as they pilgrimage through an apocalyptic world, revisiting some of the questions that Atwood’s work also grapples with, such as power, religion, and trauma.
Gone Girl frightened and intrigued audiences with its mix of seduction, horror, and suspense. At its core lied themes of relationship dynamics and gender politics. Ignatz deals with this same dynamic of when love turns dangerous. Yet, like Gone Girl, it consistently causes the reader to reevaluate where they stand throughout the whole book, as romance, fear, violence, and heartbreak blur together.