The Modern Poetess

By Julia Atherley

To celebrate the release of Rupi Kaur’s next collection The Sun and her FlowersPalatinate Books looks at some of the most exciting modern female poets. The term ‘poetess’ which began as a lesser version of the masculine ‘poet’ is now a symbol of these writers’ innate identification with the female plight. A modern poetess is someone who is not defined by their gender but deepened by it.

Kate Tempest

by Alex William Leggatt

Kate Tempest is a poet admired by many for making poetry relevant again; deftly blending spoken word poetry with rapping and, more recently, music. Her performances highlight how she fully inhabits her art yet also shed light on her disillusionment through references to a troubled childhood.Her work is characteristically bleak and firmly placed in the traditions of classical tragedy. And yet she breathes new life into old myths and gives a voice to the forgotten and the ignored. Tempest’s cynicism with modern society is never more fully realised than in her 2013 work, Brand New Ancients. Greek Gods and ancient heroes are not found in this poem but instead are domesticated in the context of contemporary urban London. Through demoting lofty notions of heroes, Tempest seeks to empower the downtrodden; “the Gods are in us”. The poem’s allusions to Hellenic myths offer an insight into human experience. She mythologises her figures in a way that readers can relate to, even if these experiences are not deemed acceptable by societal standards: “the gods are in the toilets having unprotected sex”.

Tempest acknowledges that “there’s always been villains”, and that there is ‘no difference’ between the Gods of Olympus and the Londoners that inhabit Brand New Ancients, we all have the capacity for “greed…ambition” and “jealousy”. However, this does not mean that the poem lacks hope. Tempest ensures this work is an affront to readers’ preconceptions. It frequently implores the reader/listener to “see” the “burning…purpose” in everyone, rather than ostracise individuals based on creed, gender or race. Instead, an “epic narrative” from “everyday odysseys” can be found in all lives, not merely those who have been privileged enough to pen their stories. Tempest’s ability to switch the poem’s focus from the commonplace to the classical to the philosophical demonstrates not only her poetic skill but mimics a society’s collective consciousness.

[blockquote author=”Julia Atherley” pull=”normal”]The term ‘poetess’ which began as a lesser version of the masculine ‘poet’ is now a symbol of these writers’ innate identification with the female plight.[/blockquote]

Elisabeth Hewer


I don’t know if it is a common experience among Millennials, but modern-day poetry welcomed me with Love Letters from Helen of Troy; who is by all accounts an underestimated character. Supposedly, her face launched a thousand ships, but who worries about her destiny when Achilles and Hector are locked in a fight to death? Elisabeth Hewer makes ancient history and myths come back to life with a twist. By reinterpreting stories of Olympus and even episodes from the Bible, this British poetess gives women a place in history. Helen of Troy is no longer a symbol of vain, fickle beauty; Eve is not the portrait of sin and human weakness: she is curiosity and pure gumption. They are flesh and bones. The mythical atmosphere doesn’t drown out the noise of today’s hardships. If anything, it helps bring them to light in all of their misguided glory. Some poems are therefore unequivocally angry: angry at men acting as predators as if in their God-given right, angry at what this world wants and demands from women. Even looking at one’s reflection in the mirror becomes a moment worthy of lyricism. Because sometimes the body you see feels like a cage when you’d want nothing more than for it to be an ocean, boundless and wild.

Clementine von Radics

by Rhiannon Morris

For a long time I was sceptical of contemporary poetry. Maybe that was because I loved reading classic literature when I was young and so I’d formed some unshakeable impression that good poetry had born and died with the Romantics. I suppose I thought respecting tradition equated to good taste. However, in my early teens I discovered the American poet Clementine von Radics and realised that contemporary poetry was still good in its simple honesty. In many ways, she shocked me. Her confessional style of poetry has an unashamed rawness which plays out moments of romantic intimacy in naked detail in a way that isn’t gratuitous or embellished. It is thrillingly private yet relatable. I suppose I thought respecting tradition equated to good taste Von Radics takes the facts of her own experience and with confidence shows she is prey to faults and weaknesses without dramatizing them into tragic flaws. She discusses failures in love without despondency. Instead she portrays a delicate selfconscious awareness of the very active process of living. Though touched with nostalgia, her poems leave you with the values of resilience and the tenacity of spirit that faces the reality of life with a quiet beauty of knowledge; we are being constantly made and unmade by the challenges we face.

[blockquote author=”Julia Atherley” pull=”normal”]A modern poetess is someone who is not defined by their gender but deepened by it.[/blockquote]

Holly McNish

by Shauna Lewis

McNish’s entrance into the performance scene allowed you to feel the tangible anger riddled throughout her poems. Her own experiences as a woman are ones that so many of us have shared and so her poems affect such a wide audience. Her debut for Picador Poetry, ‘Plum’ attacks inequality and cultural issues in a similar fashion to its predecessors. It unfolds amongst the naivety of childhood as McNish takes us from her adolescence to adulthood. Her criticism of female oppression and environmental issues emerges alongside poems about ‘Midsomer Murders’ and ‘Frozen’. Her writing mirrors the ceaseless movement of life that carries on as individuals face adversity. Most of all, McNish acts as a voice for the experiences that many women encounter as they grow up. She shows the resilience made when we are forced to adapt in an environment that seeks to constantly push us down. We draw on our own strength to overcome it.

Image: Birte Fritsch via Flickr

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