Although many think back to the poets of the Romantic or Modern movements when they consider great poetic works, the writers of today have as much (if not more!) to say about the frustrating and beautiful complexities of the human experience.
But, what would the answer be if you were asked who the most important poets of the 21st century are? Now that is a hard question! It would certainly depend on who you asked, but here is a list of some of the wonderful poets who have contributed some incredible verse in the last twenty years.
Influential 21st Century Poets
Let’s start with one of the best-loved poets of any era, Seamus Heaney. Seamus Heaney was born in April of 1939 in Castledawson, Northern Ireland. If you know anything about Heaney it is likely that he wrote extensively about his Irish heritage and the historical and contemporary plight of the Irish people. His first collection, which many consider being his finest, Death of a Naturalist, was published in1965 while Heaney was working as a lecturer at Queen’s University. It contains some of the best examples of his work such as the title poem, ‘Death of Naturalist,’ ‘Digging’ and ‘Mid-term Break’.
Seamus Heaney received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. Upon his death in 2013 there was a public expression of grief over the loss of such an important literary figure. During his lifetime, he was considered by some to be the most famous poet in the world.
Fleur Adcock was born in Papakura, New Zealand in February 1934. Her verse speaks on topics such as place, identity, and the every day, sometimes using dark imagery to change one’s perspective on seemingly normal situations. She has written 10 collections of poetry. Her most recent collections are The Land Ballot published in 2014 and Hoard published in 2017. She has been awarded the New Zealand National Book Award, Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit and Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Wendell Berry was born in Henry Country, Kentucky in August of 1934. He is a poet, environmentalist, and farmer. While writing he tends to favor pastoral themes and elegiac forms. He is also known for his historical narratives such as ‘Bringer of Water’.
His first full book of poetry was published in 1964 and was titled The Broke Ground. Within this work, he set the scene for a lifetime of poetry concerned with place, life, and death. His works have had a huge impact on the literary world, he was awarded the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Books Critics Circle in 2016.
Joyce Carol Oates
Oates was born in Lockport, New York in 1938 and has since published 58 novels as well as novellas, short stories, nonfiction works and volumes of poetry. She has won the National Book Award, the National Humanities Medal as well as two O. Henry Awards. Plus, five of her novels were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Her works are noted for their depictions of violence in contemporary society. Today, her novels them, Garden of Earthly Delights, and Do with Me What You Will are considered to be some of her most important. Some of her poetry collections include Love and Its Derangements: Poems (1970), The Fabulous Beasts: Poems (1975) and Tenderness (1996).
Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, in 1939. Over her lifetime she has written eighteen books of poetry, eighteen novels as well as works for children and graphic novels. She has also received more than fifty-five awards. These include the Man Booker Prize for her novels The Blind Assassin and The Testaments, the Arthur C. Clark Award, and PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement award.
Her most well-known book is The Handmaid’s Tale which has recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. It is considered one of the world’s best examples of dystopian fiction ever written. Her first collection of poetry Double Persephone was published in 1961. Others include The Circle Game, Power Politics, In Procedures for Underground, and Morning in the Burned House. Some of her most popular poems include ‘Procedures for Underground’ and ‘Siren Song’. She is considered to be one of Canada’s best living writers.
Vikram Seth was born in Kolkata, West Bengal, India in June 1952. He is the author of novels and books of verse and has received a number of awards. Seth often writes about travel, love, loss, and Indian history. His eight books of poetry include Mappings, The Humble Administrator’s Garden, and Three Chinese Poets. Two of his most popular poems include The Tale of Melon City and The Frog and the Nightingale.
Alexie was born in October 1966 in Wellpinit, Washington. While best-known for his books, such as the short story collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, he is also a prolific poet. In the early years of his career, Alexie received the Washington State Arts Commission Poetry Fellowship as well as the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship. His first two collections were published in 1992. The poems in these collections, and is much of Alexie’s work, are concerned with the struggles of Native Americans. He speaks on themes of poverty and racism.
War Dances, Alexie’s collection of short stories, and poems won the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. His volumes of verse include One Stick Song, The Man Who Loves Salmon, First Indian on the Moon, and The Business of Fancydancing.
Carol Ann Duffy, who was born in Scotland in December of 1955, has become one of the best-loved poets alive today. Her poetry is concerned with themes of love—familial and romantic. These poems are generally written in the form of a monologue and deal with situations and people that poetry does not normally touch on. Her writing can be both playful and serious as she explores topics such as queer identity, the power of language, and feminism. She is admired for the way she plays with words and enhances or alters their meanings.
Some of Duffy’s best-known poetry collections are Standing Female Nude (1985), The World’s Wife (1999), and Rapture (2005). More recently, she has taken to writing verse for children as well as adults. Collections published in the 2010s include Love Poems in 2010 and Sincerity in 2018. In 2009 she was named Britain’s first female Poet Laureate. She famously only agreed to take on the role because no other woman had previously held it before her. A few of her best-known poems are ‘Havisham’ and ‘In Your Mind’.
Collins has been referred to by many as one of, if not the, most popular poets in America. It was in 1991 with the publication of Questions about Angels that Collins star began to rise. His works are considered at once relatable and thought-proving and he is known to use wit to speak on deeper, more profound topics. He has served two terms as the US poet laureate. Some of his books of verse include The Trouble with Poetry, Aimless Love, and the Rain in Portugal.
Walcott was born in January of 1930 in Castries, Saint Lucia. His first poem appeared in a newspaper when he was only fourteen. His first collection was published five years later, titled 25 Poems. Walcott’s career was solidified with the publication of In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960 in 1962. Throughout his life, he won the Novel Prize, a MacArthur Foundation genius award, the Queen’s Medal for Poetry, and the 2011 T.S. Eliot Prize for White Egrets.
In February of 2016, he became a Knight of the Order of Saint Lucia. His work is generally associated with themes of spirituality, colonialism, and Caribbean history. The work most cited by literary scholars is Omeros, and Homeric epic published in 1990.