Okay, so you’re probably in one of two camps; you think poetry is cool, expressive and the perfect way to write down your innermost thoughts, or you think it’s naff, outdated and would rather just listen to grime songs instead because they rhyme and they’re waaay more fun, right? If you’re in camp two, give poetry a chance. Like you said, you already enjoy things that rhyme…

It zhooshes language up

“Too wee, or not to wee. That is the question,” proclaims my mate before embarking on a longish car journey. It’s not ROFL, exactly, but quoting a verse from Hamlet’s soliloquy is a bit more entertaining than “mmm, I don’t know whether or not I need a wee.” That’s one of the reasons I love poetry. It makes language fun. It shines a new light on the drab, the dreary, the day-to-day stuff of life. In the words of Matthew Arnold, an Actual Poet, “poetry is simply the most beautiful, impressive, and widely effective mode of saying things, and hence its importance.” One of my favourite poems is about a mattress. Point made.

It NAILS feelings…

Robert Frost had a good acid test for poetry: “the lump in the throat”. “A complete poem,” he said, “is where an emotion has found its thought, and the thought has found words.” You know that feeling of numbness after you’ve been really devastated by something or someone? Well, Emily Dickinson has it down. You’ll find your own though. CS Lewis (of Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe fame) said “friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself’ and that is exactly what it’s like when you find the poet that speaks to you.

…but it’s also licensed nonsense

Jabberwocky by Edward Lear is a poem written for the sheer hell of it. It plays with language — or, rather, it plays with sounds, like babies do when they are learning to talk. To read it is to indulge in the ridiculous, the fantastic, and the impossible. Poetry, more than any art form, can do that: it is self-contained, with its own rhythm, rules and logic. “A big brown bear is knocking at my door” writes Selima Hill in My First Bra, and for a few minutes we can just suspend our belief.

It speaks truth to power

Telling WWI generals how it is in the trenches, telling presidents how it feels to be discriminated against, telling governments how it is to survive on benefits, telling event organisers what it means to be gay… as the old saying doesn’t quite go, the poetic is political, and the political is poetic. Like an ancient form of Twitter, poetry is an efficient form of communication that can – if the poem or poet is a success – strike right to the top.

It’s funny

Not always – sometimes it is seriously, utterly devastating – but some poems can really deep-tissue massage the funny bone: Cinderella by Road Dahl (NOT what you expect), Mr Oxford Don by John Agard, Nobody by Emily Dickinson and most things by John Betjeman are excellent places to start.

It’s not too spenny

Collections are expensive, sure – but there are millions of poems available for nothing at all on the internet. Look at Poetry Foundation, Poetry Archives, The Poetry Society… and Instagram, which believe it or not is becoming something of a poetic hotbed.

It can be written by anyone…

Every language and every dialect in every region of every country of the world has poetry in some form or another, and has done since the beginning of language. Some of the richest poems have been written by some of the poorest people: people without great formal education, who haven’t travelled much beyond their own village, let alone the world. Poets can be young or old, middle or working class, male or female and anywhere on any spectrum. They don’t need to have lots of time: the shortest poem in English, Flea, is four words – five, including the title. Reading poems helps a lot, but they don’t necessarily need to know much about poetry. Or own anything other than a piece of paper, and a pen.

…including you

There are all sorts of competitions, courses and guides for aspiring young poets. For inspiration, check out the latest winners of the Foyle’s Young Poet of the Year Competition – then just sharpen your pencil, and get rhyming.

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Image: Amber Griffin

It’s National Poetry Month, but you probably already know that. Your English teacher has probably made you study some long dead poet’s use of foreshadowing or alliteration or whatever. You know good ol’ Billy Shakespeare with his doths and thys, maybe you’ve studied John Donne with his old timey spelling or Sylvia Plath’s intense and harrowing poems, or drawn a beard on Carol Ann Duffy in your GCSE anthology and called her ‘Carol Ann Fluffy’ (just us?).

But news: poetry doesn’t have to be all rhyming couplets and iambic pentameters. It can be fun and free flowing. It can be political or metaphorical or just for kicks. And you don’t always have to study it. Sometimes, amazingly, you can just enjoy it.

So here are six of our fave modern poets who are breaking down stereotypes. And not a single dead white guy in sight.

Hollie McNish

Since Hollie won the UK Slam Poetry Competition in 2009, she’s had YouTube videos of her spoken word poems go viral. Like, millions of views in a few days sort of viral. She’s also the first ever poet to record an album at Abbey Road Studios. Hollie tends to write about everyday occurrences that bother or frustrate her, in a beautiful and lyrical way. Basically, she’s amazing. Buy her book, Papers, here.

Happy National Poetry Day. Here's a poem about how brilliant my shoulders are. Left one in particular xxx

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Warsan Shire

The name might sound familiar to you, since one of her poems was recently performed by this up and coming indy musician… I don’t know, maybe you’ve heard of her? Beyoncé. That’s right. Bey-freaking-oncé. Author of the gorgeous poems sampled throughout Lemonade, Somali-British poet Warsan Shire comes with Queen Bey’s stamp of approval – so you know she’s good. Buy her book, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, here.

#warsanshire #wordstoliveby 📝 #forwomen 🙌🏾 for the #goddess and #sparkle and #firewithin 🙏🏽✨🔥

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Kate Tempest

Kate Tempest is one of the most acclaimed poets in the country today, often mixing poetry, music and rap to make political statements. Her performances have taken her on tours to Australia and all over Europe, and she’s been on the bill at festivals like Latitude and Glastonbury. Plus in 2013 she was the youngest ever recipient of the Ted Hughes Award. So there’s that… Buy her book, Let Them Eat Chaos, here.

Lang Leav

Lang Leav writes poems and short stories and they’re all so elegant and beautiful and timeless – essentially the Chanel of poetry. She is HUGE on Tumblr (a great place to find poets) and has published two beautiful books. Buy her book, The Universe of Us, here.

Laura Dockrill

Laura Dockrill may be best known for being BFFs with Adele and Kate Nash, but she’s wildly talented in her own right. Along with writing poems and short stories she is also an illustrator and has illustrated all of her own books too, NBD. Buy her book, Mistakes in the Background, here.

Bridget Minamore

One of our lovely betty writers (read her articles here), Bridget also just happens to be an incredible poet. She writes beautifully about race and class and what it means to be a woman today and her spoken word stuff is SO. FREAKING. GOOD. Buy her book, Titanic, here.   


It’s time you started celebrating your period, guys. Sign up to bettybox RN and get all your tampons and pads, beauty products, sweet treats and loads more cool stuff delivered to your door, every single month. We know. It’s totally awesome. 

Image: Getty / Katie Edmunds