Writing About One Of Life’s Biggest Obstacles: Poverty

To say that the world has thrown us a curveball in the last twelve months is a huge understatement — and whereas all of us hope for the best in 2021, the year has certainly gotten off to a rocky start. Many of us are still out of work thanks to job cutbacks and layoffs due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has led many more to rethink their financial situations. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the written word has become all the more valuable.

You might not think that a person would choose to write about their own experiences with a Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy — but they do. That’s the sad state of the world we live in. Here are a few poems that explore this unfortunate topic.

This poem is aptly called “Bankruptcy” and was written by Kelvin Rush, who takes a somewhat comical and almost optimistic approach to what life threw his way:

My assets were sold

I was stripped naked and bare

They found all the gold

It was a callous affair

My home has now gone

My reputation in tatters

At least I’m still alive

That’s all that matters

They took all my money

My possessions, my debts

They’ll be no more legal action

No phone calls, no threats

In a year from now

I become debt free

Thank you to my creditors

For my Bankruptcy!

“Bankruptcy Hearing” by Dana Bisignani takes on a completely different tone: she writes about how the stigma of bankruptcy and financial distress can be crushing, follow you around forever, and make you feel like a child unfit to survive in the real world.

They have us corralled

in the basement of the courthouse.

One desk and a row of folding chairs—

just like first grade, our desks facing Teacher

in neat little rows.


wooden benches like pews and red

carpet reserved for those who’ve held out

the longest. No creditors have come to claim us

today. We’re small-time.

This guy from the graveyard shift

stares at his steel-toed boots, nervous hands

in his lap. None of us look each other

in the eye. We steal quick looks—how did you

get here. . .  

chemo bills, a gambling addiction,

a summer spent unemployed and too many

cash advances to pay the rent.

We examine the pipes that hang

from the ceiling, the scratched tiles on the floor,

the red glow of the exit sign at the end of the hall

so like our other failed escapes:

light of the TV at night,

glass of cheap Merlot beside a lamp,

a stop light on the way out of town.

The Best Election-Based Poetry For 2020

The election is right around the corner. Suffice it to say, many Americans are feeling anxious about the outcome of the election. The majority, in fact, call it very important whether they belong to the left or right side of the aisle. Poetry is about discerning the truth from complicated images and topics, though, which is why we’re partial to Medium’s Election 2020 collection of poems called “Resistance.”

Emma Briggs’s “Anticipation” sums up how we all feel right now. It encompasses the darkness we all see in the future, but remains optimistic in its message:

‘Like waiting for a biopsy.’


and I’m not even directly affected.

This last week

is not easy:

a daily escalation

of tension.

‘What if?’

Try not to slip

down the terror spiral.

Try not to trip out

on how it’s so wrong.

Focus on those

small signs of light

in this dismal tunnel.

Keep breathing,

stop reading

the comments.

Everything ends,


finally life

will cycle on

and around

as usual.

Sherrye Richardson asks “How Broken Are We?” in another practical poem. How many of us can relate to the idea that we as Americans are living in a fractured, broken society struggling to recover from its differences — even as we’ve struggled for hundreds of years?

Misery master

Destroyer of dreams, killer

Of hope and teller of lies



Give more, go hard

Lay down, stay down

Choices, decisions react

Going forward

Some days nothing matters

Others down and blue

Reach to find

The stolen soul

Not quite defeated

Rise up America

Gail Walter shared “We Shall Not Be Moved” in order to showcase how the past can tell the story of the present and future:

“Tomorrow the invasion begins in earnest, and it is an invasion with all the implied violence. It is the feeling of flat on the ground, face in the gravel, something heavy in the middle of the back so that the stomach has nowhere to go. It is a posture of death. It is a posture that cannot sustain life. Parts of the dying earth fill my mouth so that I cannot breathe and cannot speak.”
Read the rest here.

The Most Disturbing Poems You’ve Never Read

We’re not here to discuss Edgar Allen Poe or any other popular poet you know and love. The most disturbing topics for poetry are fact and not fiction. If you’re faint of heart, then please leave now. These are adult topics. If you have children, we urge you to discuss subjects like bullying, sexual abuse, and harassment — most of which are much more commonly experienced in junior high or high school with people they know rather than people they don’t. 

One such case of sexual abuse occurred in an Idaho school where three high school football players allegedly sexually assaulted a special needs individual who eventually sent a poem called the World is not used to people like me to Buzzfeed.

It reads:

The Worlds not used to people like me

They still have Hitler within their hearts they

Think that being different is a sign of

Weak and bullying can get them far

But what society doesn’t know is that a kicked

in hanger can bruise and penetrate the heart

It leaves you walking on a stub because

Of the burden put on you by the people

That you thought you once loved

The Worlds not use to people like me

Like Alex, it likes to pound you to

The ground and lock the door

For your opportunities and leave you

Helpless with a sound

Why lord why does this happen to us send

Us to earth to be sent to the back

Of the bus

The assaulted teen and his sexual abuse lawyer were responsible for sending the poem to be read by others who had experienced similar circumstances, and urge others to speak out when it happens to them.

You can find additional poems on similar topics like The Script, That Look, or Years Have Past at Into the Light. Anonymous author Abigail shared a poem called Gaps, which reads:

Gaps in the graphics,

Always knew they were there,

But stuff I saw made me

More reluctant to share

It was fresh, it was new,

Never been there before,

And the scary specifics

Made me feel like a whore

I know if I trust You

I’ll come out the other side,

With more freedom than ever,

Nothing to prove, lose, or hide.

Gaps in the graphics,

Want them to stay as they are

Then once and forever,

That ship can sail afar.

How would you interpret the poem? At first glance, it could have nothing to do with sexual assault. The narrator is, at its deepest meaning, discussing the subject of trust thematically. How long does it take to trust someone enough to feel “freedom” on the open waters of life? Ultimately, the poem seems to address the darker realities of some relationships that don’t work even when we might like them to. While Gaps is subtle in subject content, we can infer deeper meaning from the author’s other poems that can be viewed on the same site.

The Best New Coronavirus-Inspired Poems You’ve Never Heard Before

The coronavirus pandemic has led our world down a dark road — and the United States in particular has made innumerable mistakes in tackling this problem. Thankfully, this year’s National Poetry Month put everything into perspective. Writers shared their coronavirus-inspired poetry to shed light on the struggles of everyday people around the country. Some end with tears, while others end with giggles. 

My Corona was written by Sally Morgan:

The coronavirus looks like a dog toy

or a child’s Koosh ball

with its primary color

and fanciful shape.

How can something so whimsical

be so insidious?

It hasn’t infected me, mind you,

but it has changed me —

morphed into an

odd, complex chimera.

I’ve grown antennae that detect

a six foot field around me.

I’ve developed a fly’s eyes

to see danger on surfaces.

Like a squirrel, I bury food

in nooks and crannies

for a distant time.

I don a carapace

to venture out —

which I shed like a


on return to my door.

I am Lady Macbeth at the sink.

The future keeps receding.

Certainty has collapsed.

Sometimes I am like

the bear,

lumbering out of hibernation —

but mostly, I am like

the ground hog,


still waiting

to see her


Here are a couple stanzas from A Viral Composition written by Renata Starbird:

It all seems so simple, yet wonderfully cunning

that we should be haunted by creatures so stunning.

Not a prokaryote nor is it eukaryotic,

some close to home, others much more exotic.

As we go ’round the globe in our planes, trains, and cars,

as we chop down the trees to make room for our yards,

as we drill deep into earth and pave roads in the mountains,

viral dark matters inch closer by thousands.

These poems elicit our emotions about the new world in which we live through a novel lens — and we should all strive to take a second glance and reevaluate. Looking for more? A quick look online will feed your appetite.

Why Do Poets Write About Self-Inflicted Pain?

Pain in poetry is nothing new. Many people will tell you that the core characteristic inherent in all writers is injury, self-inflicted or not. Physical or emotional. Writers write because they want to explore those feelings that we generally do not discuss openly in society. It’s their way of providing hope for everyone else who feels lost or like people generally don’t understand their hopes, desires, emotions, etc. 

Why do they do this? Because life isn’t just about what happens out in the open. It’s about what happens behind closed doors — or, in the case of writers exploring personal injury through poetry, that which happens within the mind, a sack of fat and fluid that holds our deepest, darkest thoughts. That’s why so many people have a passion for poetry! It uses imagery and metaphor to tell a story that normal prose cannot. 

Interestingly, many professional poets have explored self-inflicted pain both personally and thematically. Fans of poetry or novice writers have done their best to explore this topic online, through non-official contests, like this one. PouncingXXkitten said, “I want to hear your best poems about self-inflicted pain.”

Dozens of entries were collected, not for a tangible prize or recognition, but instead for personal fulfillment. Titles were as dark as you’d expect: “Razor Blade Obsession,” “This is Humanity,” “Re-Chained,” “Gorgeous Eyes Shine Suicide,” and “Permanent Memories” were all ranked near the top.

Of course, the real turmoil was explored in the stanzas themselves.

This was Gorgeous Eyes Shine Suicide:

“Tears run down my face and arm

Carrying pain and carrying harm

Some are red and some are clear

Filled with sadness, filled with fear.

Flowers bloom upon my skin

Bold, bright and red; the colour of sin

The dark poppies on the white of flesh

How could anybody ever guess?

The only way to release my pain

But the freedom is always followed by shame

I never want anyone to see me like this

That why I hide the scars that cover my wrists

Because who could love a girl like me?

To my stone cold heart there is no key

No-one can know my secret of desire

The need, the thirst, that painful fire

One look at my scars and they’re filled with disgust,

No-one can know my true feeling of lust

I’m a cutter addicted to the high that it brings

I crave blood and pain more than anything

I know how it feels to be so shut out

You just want help, but no-one hears your shout.”

This isn’t just a piece about the fears of growing up in a judgmental society with few hopes and dreams to live for — it’s a piece that reminds all of us that we should treat everyone with love and respect because we never know what’s going on beneath the surface. Is this narrator living through a nightmare as bad as she believes? Maybe. But maybe not. 

If you are struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please seek professional help and support

The Best Of African American Poetry

Throughout history, centuries of oppression against African Americans have inspired some of the greatest poems of all time. These poems perfectly capture the emotions of those who were enslaved, ripped from their homes, or simply not provided with the same freedoms and privileges as everyone else. 

Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Sympathy has been read by hundreds of millions since it was written, and you probably recognize the final line even if you’re not familiar with the entire poem: “I know why the caged bird sings!” The phrase was made famous by Maya Angelou, who was inspired to write Caged Bird.

Angelou didn’t simply write about what it was like to enslaved literally, but figuratively as well, and through stark contrasted with what it was like to be free — or to yearn for freedom. She described a “bird that stalks / down his narrow cage / can seldom see through / his bars of rage.” You might also recognize those lines, even if you don’t recognize the entire poem. Although her poetry uses imagery to show us the effects of slavery, most of it is figurative in the sense of generalization.

Phillis Wheatley wrote On Being Brought from Africa to America, a poem that still resonates with people today. She was born and died in the latter half of the 18th century, and is famous for not only her beautiful poems, but because she was one of the first African Americans to publish such a book of poetry — and while she was still very young at that. Perhaps more astoundingly, she was given her freedom shortly after its publication.

Langston Hughes wrote I, Too during the Harlem Renaissance in the early 1900s. His poetry bears in mind the struggles of African Americans growing up and surviving in the United States, and reminds readers that it was never easy. This is especially recognizable when he describes the impact of segregation.

Pandemics Have Always Inspired Poetry

Life and art are interconnected as are the past and present. When confronted with the harshness of reality, we try to remember what others went through during similar events in the past. We try to take inspiration from their survival. Certainly we take it from the words they left behind. It should come as little surprise that poets never let a good crisis go to waste — and a devastating pandemic is as good a crisis as any.

One poem called Cholera from the modern era is a testament to the horrors of even worse outbreaks. It reads:

It is dawn.

Listen to the footsteps of the passerby,

in the silence of the dawn.

Listen, look at the mourning processions,

ten, twenty, no… countless.

Everywhere lies a corpse, mourned

without a eulogy or a moment of silence.

Humanity protests against the crimes of death.

Cholera is the vengeance of death.

Even the gravedigger has succumbed,

the muezzin is dead,

and who will eulogize the dead?

O Egypt, my heart is torn by the ravages of death.

Another work of poetry called Night Visitor evokes images of love, stress, and darkness in the face of inevitable death.  An Iraqi named Ahmed bin al-Hussein al-Kindi wrote it sometime during the 10th century after contracting a fever in Egypt. It reads:

For she does not pay her visits save under cover of darkness,

I freely offered her my linen and my pillows,

But she refused them, and spent the night in my bones.

My skin is too contracted to contain both my breath and her,

So she relaxes it with all sorts of sickness.

When she leaves me, she washes me

As though we had retired apart for some forbidden action.

It is as though the morning drives her away,

And her lachrymal ducts are flooded in their four channels.

I watch for her time without desire,

Yet with the watchfulness of the eager lover.

You can understand why many of us turn to these poems today. The novel coronavirus is extremely infectious and has a higher fatality rate than the seasonal flu, but many American citizens haven’t even begun to take the virus — or the disease it causes, COVID-19 — seriously. That failure will result in even more emotional pain as the cases, and eventual deaths, continue to mount. 

The best we can do is continue to share information, take care of one another, and explore works from the past in order to better cope with the present!

Is Robert Frost The Most Influential Poet Of All Time?

Robert Frost was a popular English poet before his death at the age of 88 in 1963, and he has perhaps grown even more popular as time has worn on. Many of those poems were written from a New England setting, which could be why he began to gain notoriety among Americans before his death. He is one of the few poets who gained fame before death, winning four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry while he was still alive. He was also granted the Congressional Gold Medal. 

One poem that you’ve probably quoted before is “The Road Not Taken.” Here it is:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

In the mood for something even simpler but just as memorable? Humans are obsessed with end of the world scenarios, which could be why “Fire and Ice” resonates with so many of us. Here it is:

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

Like the work of most popular poets, his was probably the result of emotional pain and suffering throughout life. He father died from tuberculosis when he was a young boy, leaving the family with almost nothing. He was a young adult when his mother died of cancer. His sister died from mental illness after Frost placed her in a mental hospital in 1920. 

Later, he had to do the same with his own daughter. And in fact, only two of his six children survived him. His wife died in 1938, long before he did. Perhaps it is no surprise that he and his family were all suffering from clinical depression.

Reading “The Waste Land” By T.S. Eliot

If you enjoy poetry, you’ll already have read this great — and frustrating — poem by T.S. Eliot. The poem is a thematic telling of those who lost much during World War I, with speakers sharing grief and exploring the concept of death in a chaotic, traumatic world. It begins before the war, when life was simpler. From there, it delves deeply into the darkness of the human experience during and after the war.

Here’s a sample of the first chapter:

   I. The Burial of the Dead

  April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.

Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee

With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,

And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,

And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.

Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.

And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,

My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,

And I was frightened. He said, Marie,

Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.

In the mountains, there you feel free.

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

  What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow

Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,

You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water. Only

There is shadow under this red rock,

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),

And I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

                   Frisch weht der Wind

                      Der Heimat zu

                      Mein Irisch Kind,

                      Wo weilest du?

“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;

“They called me the hyacinth girl.”

—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,

Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not

Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither

Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,

Looking into the heart of light, the silence.

Oed’ und leer das Meer.

The Greatest Poetry Of William Ernest Henley: Who Was He?

William Ernest Henley was an English poet, known for having only one leg. He was born in 1849. He married and had a child (who died at the tender age of five) between writing poems that would one day rocket his name to fame — but not before he died of tuberculosis when he was only 53. He passed away while resting at home in Woking, Surrey. He is perhaps best known for his poem “Invictus,” which follows:

Out of the night that covers me,

      Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

      Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.

Henley was sick all his life, having come down with tuberculosis when he was only 12 years old. That bout with the disease forced surgeons to amputate his leg in 1868, the same year his father passed away. The disease left him in great pain almost all of his young life. 

Robert Louis Stevenson admitted once in a letter that his character “Long John Silver” was inspired by his friendship with Henley. He wrote Henley directly after publishing Treasure Island ni 1883: “I will now made a confession: It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver … the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you.”

And his departed daughter Margaret actually inspired a famous character as well. J.M. Barrie chose the name “Wendy” in Peter Pan for precisely this reason.

But what kind of a man was Henley? Stevenson’s grandson described him thusly: “…a great, glowing, massive-shouldered fellow with a big red beard and a crutch; jovial, astoundingly clever, and with a laugh that rolled like music; he had an unimaginable fire and vitality; he wept one off one’s feet.”

His brother recounted that Henley was in severe pain in the periods just before his tuberculosis abscesses were drained — but directly afterward he was known for his boundless energy.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that such a wonderful poet was victim to such a difficult life. That’s what they say about all writers, of course.