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I am a huge fan of Saul Williams, simply for his originality and unique voice, which is a well done mixture of poetry, beat-poetry, and some R&B. He also has produced some albums.
Another contemporary poet that comes to mind is Billy Collins. He has published several books and is the founder of Poetry 180, a nationwide endeavor to bring poetry back into schools in a way that is unintimidating and fun.
I like Collins writing, and I really like his voice. He captures a sense of wit and humor that is, in my opinion, unique to this century.
Saul Williams is a contemporary and thought-provoking American poet who blends hip-hop with poetry. Many of his works deal with sociopolitical injustice in a way this both passionate and engaging. His poems “Not in My Name” and “List of Demands” are two of his more recent works which center on the war in Iraq. You can view video clips of Williams performing these pieces on YouTube (courtesy of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam). I use these poems in my classroom to introduce students to poetic devices such as alliteration, assonance, metaphor, enjambment, etc. Additionally, Saul Williams has several movies, albums, and books available through his website, www.saulwilliams.com
If Saul Williams does not satisfy your poetic appetite, then there are many other relevant, captivating 21st century poets such as Jessica Care Moore, Talib Kweli, and many others! If you are still unsure where to start, The Spoken Word Revolution (Sourcebooks Media Fusion, 2005) is a great book containing short biographies and poems by various authors; it also includes an audio CD with each poet performing their work. I use this book in my classroom and it has helped transform the way my students look at poetry!
I think that Nikki Giovanni's poem, "We Are Viriginia Tech" is a poem that is quite powerful. Written in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, the poem helps to bring a sense of healing to the Blacksburg community in the wake of the shootings at the campus. Giovanni's poem speaks very lucidly to the theme of endurance of difficult times. Giovanni speaks from experience as she was a professor at the university, and even taught a class with the shooter in it. The poem's images are one of survivor strength and the solidarity that survivors can find in community. Giovanni, who wrote much in way of subjective experiences such as love and identity, stirred the community in her rendition that externalizes the privatized notion of grief into one of shared understanding where those who could be seen as victims can find a collective reservoir of strength.
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