#DiverseBookBloggersDiscuss: Modern Poetry Criticisms


Poetry is a beautiful mode of expression. Poetry can capture millions and millions of moments and experiences. Yet, there are those in the poetry community who strive to tell new, contemporary poets what poetry is and is not.

For context, I have been in the poetry community for a very short time, for around 2 years online, but I’ve witnessed a lot of discussions on social media between poets and non-poets about the definition of poetry in the 21st century.

To begin with, in my humble opinion, poetry is indefinite. To me, poetry is art, music, theatre, literature, nature and so much more. It’s a very freeing art form, yet a lot of people in the poetry community, at least online, gatekeep the definition of poetry and they do this in the following ways:

“Poetry published on social media sites isn’t REAL poetry”

This is a paraphrase, but the same argument crops up everywhere in Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr comments. You might have heard of the term ‘Instapoet’ or ‘Tumblr poet’; these labels are weaponized against poets who post on social media, deeming the work of these poets to be inferior because of their publishing medium. This part of the argument is ridiculous to me because one, some of the best poetry that I have ever read has been on those sites, two, it ignores the poet’s choice of publication. To elaborate on that more, the poetry industry in terms of traditional publishing is not easy. It is difficult for poets, especially marginalized poets, to find success with traditional poetry publishers. To go back to my previous point, thirdly, it is a ridiculous notion for the so-called critics to claim that there is only ONE way to publish one’s work. Some poets can’t publish their work because of personal, geographical, accessibility reasons. These critics need to take a step back and realize that publishing is a tough industry.

“Your poetry is not original and is TOO similar to this poet.”

I see this one a lot. I understand where this one comes from because there are a lot of poems out there that sound similar. However, there is a difference between unoriginality and plagiarism. Yes, experiences can be unique, but most people can relate to each other through broader topics, such as family, heartbreak, anger etc. What I really don’t like about this argument either is that when these critics protest “unoriginality”, they invalidate a person’s experiences. And no, I’m not talking about the micro-poems that seem to swap out words every week or so, I’m talking about the poets who talk about their own personal experiences, the poets who are not as well known. I’ve seen poets of color being compared to Rupi Kaur’s poetry, however, by saying that any poet of color’s work is too similar to the poetry of another poet of color is essentially saying “I don’t care about the individual experiences here”. The beauty of poetry is that a concept can be reinvented or reworded or recontextualized by another writer. Each poet, just like any person, has their own way of feeling and experiencing the world. Let’s not forget that when reading a poetry collection.

“Writing like that doesn’t make it poetry!”

We’ve arrived at the big question: what is poetry? Here’s the answer: who knows? For some, poetry is Shakespeare. For others, it’s the sound of birds in the morning. And for some other people, it’s everything. I’m the latter. Maybe that’s pretentious, but I personally don’t believe in tying down concepts to one definition or aesthetic.

Anyway, this above paraphrase tends to be the core of gatekeepers’ argument. I see this sentiment in many reviews of poetry collections on Goodreads and Amazon. It enrages and baffles me at the same time. I want to ask these people: what is poetry then? Please do tell us. It’s interesting because it’s always about what poetry IS NOT, rather what poetry is, in comments and reviews on Goodreads etc. The “poetry IS NOT” narrative is incredibly elitist. Fundamentally, these gatekeepers ask for poetry to have a particular aesthetic and meaning, and this locks out the unique experience of marginalised poets. It’s a dangerous mindset to have, isn’t it? People forget that their values and beliefs feed into their work. So, I guess my warning to the readers of this post is to be wary of that desire to control definitions.

Gatekeeping isn’t exclusive to the poetry community, however, it’s in every community unfortunately. So, I say to you, reader, rebel and create art as you please.

However, I recommend feeding your art, and I mean ANY ART, with some amazing poets who discuss a range of experiences and identities that I shall list below:

Darshana Suresh

  • Indian-born indie poet living in New Zealand
  • Representation:
    • Sapphic love in her poetry collections ‘Fleur’ and ‘Ocean Deep’
    • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in her poetry collection ‘on the border’

Y. Robinson

  • African-American indie-turned-traditionally-published poet
  • Representation
    • Experiences of being a black woman in the United States of America, sexual trauma in her poetry collection ‘The Chaos of Longing’.

Sarah Kay

  • Biracial (Jewish and Japanese) American spoken-word poet
  • Representation
    • Experiences as a biracial woman of colour in the United States of America in her poetry collection ‘No Matter the Wreckage’ and various spoken word pieces.

Shelby Eileen

  • Canadian indie poet
  • Representation
    • Fatness, asexuality, aromanticism in their poetry collection ‘Soft in the Middle’
    • Jewish identity in their poetry collection ‘Sunfish’
    • Asexuality, aromanticism, queer identity in their poetry collection ‘Goddess of the Hunt’

Rudy Francisco

  • African-American cis male poet and spoken word artist
  • Representation
    • Experiences as a black man in the United States of America in his poetry collection ‘Helium’

Sabrina Benaim

  • Canadian poet and spoken word artist
  • Representation
    • Depression, anxiety in her poetry collection ‘Depression & Other Magic Tricks’

Andrea Gibson

  • American queer poet and spoken word artist
  • Representation
    • Queerness in sexuality and gender in their poetry collections ‘Pansy’, ‘Lord of the Butterflies’, ‘The Madness Vase’, and ‘Take Me With You’
    • Mental illness is their audio poetry collections ‘Yellowbird’, ‘Truce’, and ‘Flower Boy’

Lang Leav

  • Thai-Australian poet and novelist
  • Representation
    • Experiences as a woman of colour in Australia in all of her poetry collections – ‘Love & Misadventure, ‘Lullabies’, ‘Memories’, ‘The Universe of Us’

Danez Smith

  • African-American queer poet and spoken word artist
  • Representation
    • Experiences as a black gay man who is HIV positive in the United States of America in their poetry collections ‘Don’t Call Us Dead’, ‘[Insert] Boy’, and ‘Black Movie’

Flose Boursiquot

  • African-American indie poet
  • Representation
    • Experiences as a black woman in the United States of America

Emtithal Mahmoud

  • Sudani-American poet and spoken word artist
  • Representation
    • Experiences as a Sudanese refugee and as a woman of colour in the United States of America in her poetry collection ‘Sisters’ Entrance’.

Rachel Wiley

  • Biracial queer poet and spoken word artist
  • Representation
    • Fatness, queerness, biracial identity in her poetry collection ‘Nothing Is Okay’

Happy reading!

Melissa sig

Book Blogger @ A Brave Bookish Poet

Melissa or MJ (they/them) is a 20 something book blogger and indie poet. They’ve published 4 poetry books & are working on many more! They belong to a lovely lil cat called Dora. They like to cry over books and poetry, watch Netflix and eat pizza, and do art in their spare time.

Notable posts:

#DiverseBookBloggersDiscuss is a way to boost diverse bloggers who are brilliant, have a lot to say and deserve to be heard loud and clear. What this is, is basically a guest post feature where every Sunday, one blogger from a minority will discuss things they are passionate about on my blog. 

6 thoughts on “#DiverseBookBloggersDiscuss: Modern Poetry Criticisms

  1. This is such a great post that brings up such an important topic and I agree with all these points! I know Ariel Bisett did a documentary on modern poetry that I really loved. And I recommend Nayyirah Waheed’s poems, they are stunning!


  2. Haven’t thought about the elitism of people’s poetry commentary but now I’m going to be a lot more critical when reading reviews for poetry books! Thank you for the recommendations as well!


  3. Pingback: Blogger Recognition Award – sun and chai
  4. I think trying to write for traditional poetry publishers can be restricting. Instead, hone your skill, and readers who can understand and benefit from your poetry will come to you.


  5. Pingback: To sum-up: April 2019 | Word Wonders

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