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  • Lexy Roberts

Five contemporary poets you should check out. (in no particular order)

  1. Tommy Pico

This man is the definition of genius. His work is compelling and I believe that he must see poetry everywhere he goes. He literally made a poem from a Twitter conversation he was involved in. One of the reasons I find Pico particularly compelling, outside of his use of language, is his refusal to give readers what they expect, and arguably want, from his writing. For example, in his book, Nature Poem, he refuses to write typical nature poetry, which often expresses a celebration of nature’s beauty, and instead focuses on a much darker topic: colonialism. This is demonstrated in the lines below.

“It’s horrible how their culture was destroyed / as if in some reckless storm” (Pico 56).

I love these lines. I love the sarcasm he exhibits. Pico intelligently expresses his frustration at this type of postcolonial thinking. He uses the word “was” to emphasize the fact that some people act as if colonialism is in the past when to Pico, it is ongoing. I also love the phrase “reckless storm” it has a better ring than, “your ancestors literally tried to murder all my ancestors and we that are here are descendants of the survivors.” I love the subtlety that Pico imbues his poems with. A semi-casual examination of Native American history will help readers pick up on the nuances in Pico’s writing.

I recommend checking out Pico’s works which include a podcast called Junk after his first book Junk, more “Nature poems” and IRL.

2. Natalie Diaz

Natalie Diaz is thought-provoking and doesn’t pull any punches. In her poem, “why I hate raisins,” she keeps readers waiting and then hits them elegantly with the last line. Also, in her book, When my brother was an Aztek, she opens herself up and lets her emotions play with readers emotions. It's amazing. I can feel her helplessness and frustration as she tries to process her personal traumas. This is expressed in the line below, which was taken from her poem, “When My Brother was an Aztec,” from her collection, When my brother was an Aztek.

“He lived in our basement and sacrificed my parents” (Diaz).

This is an amazing first line. Diaz is Native American and came from a difficult family background that she draws on when writing poetry. Researching basic knowledge about the Aztecs can give readers further insight into this line of poetry. For example, Aztecs only sacrificed high ranking people, that gives readers a look into the way that Diaz viewed her parents. Furthermore the fact she says “He lived in our basement” indicates that he is not there anymore, and that he was previously hidden away in the basement, a place normally cut off from the rest of the house.

3. William Trowbridge

This man is funny. Like laugh till you cry and your sides hurt funny. If you pick up one of his books, I would suggest Old guy superhero or Last Call. Read them out loud. You’ll do yourself a favor. Trowbridge works with the absurdities of life and makes them bigger. Below is an excerpt from his poem, “A STEADY HAND,” from his collection, Old Guy Superhero.

“He needed a silo to hold his medals. Now,” (Trowbridge).

I love this line. It appears near the end of the poem and it successfully shows how puffed up the old superhero is getting about this simple task. I love how it builds on everything the poem sets up before and just points out how ridiculous the situation is. This superhero is old and it makes sense to assume he won some stuff before (but not a silo’s worth).To fill up even a small silo he would need millions of metals. The irony is, this poem was inspired by an experience Trowbridge had helping an old lady cross the street.

4. Shannon Ballam

I actually know Shannon personally and I love her stuff. She is a student of William Trowbridge and it shows. You can see bits of him in her stuff. This is especially evident in the red riding hood papers. Shannon has a way of addressing and dealing with her trauma through the use of a persona that just blows my mind. Her work is a lot like Diaz’s in its thought-provoking nature. An example of this can be seen in an excerpt from her poem, “Grandmother’s Bed,” from her collection, Pretty Marrow.

“All afternoon the bed dreamed it was a door” (Ballam).

This is the first line of the poem and is compelling unto itself. Her choice to personify the bed codes the rest of the poem in interesting ways. It alerts readers to the consciousness of the bed, which encourages them to see the bed bed as a participating member in whatever is about to take place. It adds sexual tones to the poem as well.

5. Matt Miller

This guy is good. He was published in Sink Hollow, volume IV. He wrote the poems, “Charlie”, “the Ally cat goes to the moon,” and “Tia chi group ISO leader.” I adore both of these poems. They have an otherworldly wit and charm to them that never fails to make me laugh. I love that these poems run on the craziness that is never seen in the real world. However, they seem to fit nicely in this world as well. This guy is absurdly clever. Lines from his poem, “Tia chi group ISO leader,” which was published in Sink Hollow, are quoted below.

“And then there's pale Dale / Accountant. / Breadstick” (Miller).

Let's unpack these lines. At this point in the poem, members of a group are being described and spectacular and vivid language was used until this point. His use of the word “Breadstick” is the single most stunning burn and complement at the same time, I love the duality to it. Breadsticks can tie a whole meal together or they can just be the forgotten bland side dish that no one wants. In addition to this, I love the syntax of pale Dale, it rhymes and instantly creates a mental picture of who this guy is.

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