Many sacred texts throughout history were written in a poetic language or hymn. Even the Quran and the Bible read like prose poems as do numerous Hindu, Buddhist and Yogic scriptures such as the Vedas, Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata which are all renowned epic poems containing philosophical ideas about life, love, spirituality and human nature. You might say poetry is the foundation of yoga since it is these ancient poetic verses that sages, holy men and yogis used to chant in order to aid meditation in a seated asana to achieve a higher state of consciousness or learn about the divine cosmos via poetic passages.
Fast-forward to the 21st century and things haven’t really changed. Poetry, story telling and creative expression are inspiring to all of us; they open a gate way in the mind that encourages expansion and a feeling of freedom in a world so consumed by a veil of superficial realities.
However for some of us, these ancient poems can be slightly challenging and difficult to relate to, although beautiful in their own right they don’t quite appeal to modern life. Upon waking and just before my home yoga practice I enjoy reading poetry by contemporary poets who discuss topics on love, the meaning of life, sexuality, gender, mental health, heartbreak, spirituality and much more.
I bring poetry into my yoga practice because they are short pieces of prose to easily absorb, they wake up my mind with a cup of green tea and they remind me to open my heart to be compassionate because ultimately we all face the same fears, longings, sorrows and laughters.
Here are 8 contemporary poetry books I recommend if you want to bring them into your yoga practice, or perhaps you’ve fancied reading poetry and you are not sure where to start? Or maybe you are a yoga teacher looking for new quotes or inspiring poetic affirmations you’d like to share at the beginning or the end of your class?
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
“What is stronger than the human heart. Which shatters over and over and still lives.”
Milk and Honey is a collection of short prose and poetry that takes readers on a journey of survival and bittersweet moments in life. Rupi Kaur is a sensitive soul with a courageous vulnerability expressing her thoughts and feelings about painful subjects like abuse, violence, trauma and heartache with such softness you can’t help but melt into her words and her voice. In the pain she reminds us of the healing and of our inner radiance. The entire book is also filled with sketchy illustrations, giving it a relatable quality, as though a close friend is doodling as she talks with you about her sorrows over coffee.
No matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay
“Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.”
Sarah Kay is an all time favourite contemporary poet of mine; she even inspired Rupi Kaur to perform her poems. Sarah Kay’s poetry is realistic with a touch of whimsy. They are story poems, every day poems of little magic moments and fragments of joy we sometimes miss in our hectic lives. Her poetry makes you want to dance in the rain, write love letters to your shoes, go back in time to a cherished moment and place when you were a kid and go on adventures to the moon. This is a great book to snuggle up with on a rainy day over a hot beverage or share with friends on a warm summer’s day by the beach. Sarah Kay’s words are gentle, hopeful and warm-hearted.
Salt by Nayyirah Waheed
“Expect sadness like you expect rain. Both cleanse you.”
Enclosed in the pages of Salt are short Haiku-like poetic, magical realist gems.
Nayyirah’s powerful words invokes emotion yet some of them are literally only 3 words long but they hit you like an epic 1000 page novel. This is a beautiful collection of poems about black culture, exploring realities of race, racism, cultural appropriation, white privilege, love, the confusion of having multiple identities, language, and diaspora, love and hope. Nayyirah’s words are edgy and profound yet deeply womanly as though reading scriptures written by an earth goddess. This is the type of book to enjoy reading during train journeys and road trips.
Questions for Ada by Ijeoma Umebinyuo
“You are crying and the angels sit comforting God, telling her to stop feeling so pained. “Where does it hurt?” they ask. She points to you.”
If you liked Salt, then add Questions for Ada to your reading list. The styling and subjects are very similar to Salt yet has a younger voice, almost like the younger sister to Salt’s motherly wise words. The lyrical and magical short poems embody pain, passion, love and beauty. Like a priestess casting spells under the full moon, Ijeoma conjures up the bones of her ancestors, native Nigeria and repressed femininity of her people. She speaks with truth and with a sincere mystical sensuality as though each word is sacred.
Racing Hummingbirds by Jeanann Verlee
“Men. Want to fix you, save you or f@ck you. I can’t be fixed and I don’t care to be saved.”
Sharp, Raw, Brutal. Racing Hummingbirds oozes with integrity and fervor. This is one woman’s navigation through the inner turmoil of manic depression searching for her humanity in the process. This collection is a series of narratives, prayers, affirmations, thoughts and conjuring’s that cross boundaries and yet they are speak with such stark intimacy. Jeanann Verlee addresses themes about poverty, sex, gender, femininity, heartbreak, mental health and survival. Her words are gripping; her spoken word poetry has you locked on the edge of your seat. Unafraid to be savage, Verlee reminds us that behind the ugliness there is hope and there is beauty.
Give me a God I can relate to by Blyth Baird
“We are the girls taught to survive by using our bodies as Swiss army knives.”
This collection of poetry is Blyth Baird’s first published book and it explores very sensitive topics in a beautiful and gentle way that it touches the heart.
Baird manages to capture the emotion of subjects like eating disorders, sexual assault, recovery, feminism, sexual orientation, heartbreak along with so many other topics without them feeling at all contrived. Her poetry is deeply emotive, personal and utterly compelling. Baird’s words are nitty gritty, naked and powerful, her heart can be found in these pages and she holds up a mirror for the reader to see their own beauty within the aching. Her poems are a message to all women that you are not alone, the reader finds solace in Baird’s personal thoughts and in her perilous journey of the self.
The Madness Vase by Andrea Gibson
“You are not weak just because your heart feels so heavy. I have never met a heavy heart that wasn’t a phone booth with a red cape inside it.”
“My mouth is a fire escape,” she writes, with all the fury of a shaman, with not a care in the world that her words are stark naked and ablaze with a fierce honesty and raw emotion. Andrea Gibson navigates trauma, queerness, love, gender and heartbreak within in her poetry. She also discusses hard hitting issues such as the consequences of war on veterans, their families, and the people we fight against, suicide, and violence against the LGBT community. At the core of her work, there is a bare vulnerability hidden behind her activist passion which is incredibly beautiful. Andrea is an exceptionally moving and breath-taking poet.
I wrote this for you by Iain. S. Thomas
“All the hardest, coldest people you meet were once as soft as water. And that’s the tragedy of living.”
This book is a collection of poetry with beautiful photography on every page, which is quite a unique way of bringing the words to life. This collection is sweet and heartfelt, boarding on melancholic of love lost and memories cherished.
The poetry within the pages of this book sends the reader down a whimsical artistic experience of night trains, broken lights , tunnels ,Buddha , beer , weak hands and coldness. It felt like pictures from a daydream, fleeting visions of love hurt and half-lighted candles on a hazy summer’s night. With this particular poetry book, it’s not about the writing or the words but more about the feelings it gives you, making you swoon over each prose wishing that you really were the person Iain .S. Thomas wrote this for.
Hey, yogis! Any favorite poetry books you wanna share? Drop them in the comments!