Black poetry in America predates the foundation of the United States, with writers like Phillis Wheatley and Jupiter Hammon laying a foundation for centuries of cultural landmarks.
Since the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013, a new wave of poets have captured the joys, struggles, and resistance of Black communities. In solidarity of ongoing protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S. and beyond, here’s a selection of recent poems that bear witness to Black life and Black lives.
Rayon Lennon, “Any Light,” (Rattle)
A close encounter with a white golf player’s ball turns a poet’s thoughts to the violent death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
Poland water, this kid,
And says he only saw
Me after he launched
His murderous shot. I look
At his yellow ball half-
Buried in the bunker
Growing old with new
Twilight. I’m in Sunday
Tiger red, I point out.
“That’s a color
Anyone would recognize
In any light.”
Khalypso, “Diaspora #1” (Cosmonauts Avenue)
Based in Sacramento, California, Khalypso‘s virtuosic poetry has appeared in numerous journals; this one channels beauty and trauma in the space of a handful of verses.
worry about me. i am not well. a child
has gone missing within me & left
not even detritus. all the things in this world
set to kill me encroach upon
the one smile i can offer a new day.
T. Miller, “Ten Things You Sound Like When You Say AllLivesMatter in Response to BlackLivesMatter” (Button Poetry)
At a spoken-word event in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2017, T. Miller delivered a performance that feels eerily, tragically timeless. Watch it below, and be sure to explore other work by Miller featured at Button Poetry.
Clint Smith, “How to How to Make a Cardboard Box Disappear in 10 Steps” and “For Charles” (American Literary Review)
Clint Smith is a prolific and widely read essayist and poet. This diptych of poems at American Literary Review telescopes more than two centuries of oppression and survival; here’s a small excerpt from “For Charles,” an homage to a 19th-century Louisiana slave-revolt leader.
Charles, I imagine there came a point
where you decided enough was enough,
the sound of cow hide against flesh,
the alchemy of blood & sweat sitting
atop your lip, how the wind
from the Mississippi cooled it when
it raced across your mouth, teasing
your tongue to follow it beyond this
Read the rest of this poem (and its startling companion piece, “How to Make a Cardboard Disappear in 10 Steps,” also on that page), at American Literary Review
Cortney Lamar Charleston, “How Do You Raise a Black Child” (Motion Poems)
Originally published at Beloit Poetry Journal in 2015, this poem by Cortney Lamar Charleston feels epic and cinematic on the page. The team at Minneapolis-based Motion Poems took it one step further and translated it into an actual film — with the poet narrating — and the result is beautiful and crushing.
To show your support of Black poets, please consider buying these writers’ books or collections, and subscribe to publications — like the ones featured here — that publish their work.
Looking for other ways to join the fight against racism and injustice? Here’s a comprehensive list of resources and ideas.