As the old saying goes, don’t discuss politics or religion at the dinner table. But extended family is arriving soon and niceties have eliminated most topics of conversation you were hoping to imbibe once the post-turkey wine starts flowing. We’re here to help! Here are eight outstanding contemporary poets we’ll be enthusiastically discussing over the Thanksgiving table.
Kate Tempest is a British poet, novelist, playwright, and rapper. And every time we feel caught up with Tempest’s catalogue, she releases another artifact. A new album, a new poetry collection, and, earlier this year, her first novel, The Bricks That Built the Houses – a work of fiction that reads like poetry. Tempest won the Ted Hughes Award for her epic poem Brand New Ancients in 2013 when she was just 27 years old. Her second book of poetry, Hold Your Own, was published in 2014, the same year Tempest was selected as a Next Generation Poet by the UK’s Poetry Society. Thanksgiving companions eager for more Tempest can turn to her rap albums. In 2014, she released Everybody Down, a concept album narrating the not-so-heroic journey of three London millennials. Her latest album, Let Them Eat Chaos, was released last month.
Claudia Rankine is an African American poet, essayist, and playwright. Rankine’s most recent work, her book-length poem Citizen: An American Lyric, garnered her the 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Award, the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, the 2015 NAACP Image Award, the 2015 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the 2015 Forward Prize for Best Collection, the 2015 PEN Open Book Award, the 2015 PEN American Center Literary Award, the 2015 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Literary Award, and the 2015 VIDA Literary Award. Not to mention Citizen was also a finalist for both the 2014 National Book Award and the 2016 T.S. Eliot Prize. Citizen also holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to ever appear on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. That’s quite a C.V. for one book. And you can assure your Thanksgiving guests that Rankine has more where that came from. She was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Grant this year and has announced that she’ll be using the funding to study whiteness. How’s that for a conversation starter?
Patricia Lockwood is an American poet possibly best known for her genre-bending Twitter “sexts” series and her prose poem “Rape Joke,” which won the Pushcart Prize in 2014. Lockwood’s first poetry collection Balloon Pop Outlaw Black was published in 2012 and became one of the best-selling independent poetry titles of all time after being listed on both The New Yorker and Pitchfork’s end-of-year lists. Lockwood’s second poetry collection, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, was published in 2014 to critical acclaim. Her poetry will give your dinner companion explorations on gender and sexuality to chew over, her Twitter feed will give everyone something to laugh about over dessert. Hungry for more? Lockwood’s memoir will be published in 2017.
Tracy K. Smith is an African American poet best known for her 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning collection Life on Mars. In Life on Mars, Smith explores everything from hard science to science fiction, grief to desire, race to parenthood. Smith’s debut collection The Body’s Question was published in 2003 and was awarded the Cave Canem Prize. Her second collection, Duende, was published in 2007 and, deservedly, won the James Laughlin Award, awarded by the Academy of American Poets to honor the best sophomore publication from a US poet. Tracy K. Smith’s poetry is musical and sure to affect anyone lucky enough to linger in its path. If your Thanksgiving guests want to learn more about Smith and her process, suggest they read her 2015 memoir Ordinary Light, a meditation on race, faith, and poetic vocation.
Sarah Kay is an American poet born to a Japanese American mother and a Jewish American father. Although she is primarily a spoken word poet, Kay published B, her first collection of poetry, in 2007. In 2014, Kay published No Matter The Wreckage, a collection of poems from the first decade of her career. Kay began performing poetry at the Bowery Poetry Club when she was just 14 years old. She joined Bowery’s Slam Team in 2006 and was the youngest person competing in the National Poetry Slam that year. She was 18 years old. Since then, Sarah Kay has performed her poetry on stage at the TED Conference, at Lincoln Center, and on HBO.
Warsan Shire is a British poet and writer. Born in Kenya and raised in London to Somali parents, Shire’s work explores intersectional feminism in its many forms. Shire published her first chapbook, Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, in 2011. In 2014, she was named London’s first every Young Poet Laureate. She was 26 at the time. If her name sounds familiar, it’s probably because your dinner guest heard her work on Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade. And if they haven’t, there’s no better way to navigate a food coma than with a healthy helping of Beyoncé and Shire. Warsan Shire’s first full-length collection will be published sometime in the next year. It’s title? Extreme Girlhood.
Saeed Jones is an African American poet whose work centers on themes of intimacy, race, power, and masculinity. Jones’ debut collection Prelude to Bruise was published in 2014 and was named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of the 2015 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry. His collection weaves together a coming-of-age mythology influenced by the history of black America. His name may sound familiar as the executive culture editor at BuzzFeed, but Thanksgiving guests in the know will cite Jones’ Stonewall Book Award, Lambda Literary Award, and Pushcart Prize. Looking for a second helping? Saeed Jones’ Twitter bio promises a forthcoming memoir from Simon & Schuster.
Jamila Reddy is a Los Angeles-based poet, writer, and creative producer interested in creating work that helps historically colonized people connect to their own power. She describes herself as a queer/Black/woman, noting that each of these identity informs the other, both in her work and in her life. Her poetry chapbook the consequence of silence explores the various forms of erasure that target black voices and black bodies. If your Thanksgiving companions haven’t heard of Jamila Reddy yet, that’s because knowing her is a cutting edge experience. Reddy isn’t on the cusp of becoming great; she’s already great. What she’s on the cusp of is the rest of the world realizing it.