Poetry in an Era of #BlackLivesMatter

Maybe there is karma, or some confluence of the universe, but earlier today I began contemplating if and how to begin work on an anthology of poetry from poets past and present that speaks to and from #BlackLivesMatter.

And then in my Twitter feed:

Jen Benka, Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets, speaks to the incredibly powerful fact that poetry matters in an era of #BlackLivesMatter—anchored by the printing of Langston Hughes’s “I, Too” in the NYT.

Hughes has been much on my mind recently—his “Let America Be America Again,” “Theme for English B,” and “Harlem,” notably [1].

As a poet and a teacher, I have been struggling with race and racism as well: first spring (Baltimore is burning) and Four Poems: For Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin.

Benka pointed to these poetic responses: what the dead know by heart, Dante Collins; A Small Needful Fact, Ross Gay; and the bullet was a girl, Danez Smith.

Maybe I am too hopeful as a poet, and reader of poetry, but I am compelled to think we may well need an anthology of poetry past and present to help begin the healing.

Anyone? Anyone?

Until (if) this idea gains momentum, please send me a list of poems (and if accessible online) to add below.

“Incident,” Countee Cullen

“Allowables,” Nikki Giovanni

The Talk,” Jabari Asim

“Middle Passage,” Robert Hayden

from Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: “Cornel West makes the point…,” Claudia Rankine

[1] See also Listening to Langston Hughes about “Make America Great Again” and Revisiting “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes.

6 thoughts on “Poetry in an Era of #BlackLivesMatter”

  1. Paul, I’ve enjoyed reading your comments as I lurk on the website. Thank you for initiating the topic. Poetry, as all art, can be healing and inspirational. Not only does Langston Hughes come to mind, but other Harlem Renaissance poets such as Waring Cuney, Claude McKay, and Countee Cullen, as well as poets from various eras such as Georgia Douglass Johnson, poets from the Black Arts movement, and those that emerged in the late twentieth century, e.g. Nikki Finney. But, I think that righteous anger, emerging in the poetic/artistic form, has to garner a space as well. Consider the power of artists such as Nina Simone, Max Roach, and Abby Lincoln, whose voices and music provided the anthems for progressive, and perhaps, revolutionary action.
    I suppose that one can raise the question about what happens when art is no longer a healing balm. Thanks

  2. Paul, a pleasure to come across your site today. Your idea is perfect. The Black Lives Matter is too important not to have what you have in mind brewing right now. I few years back I tried to start an anthology on race in education and then The Teacher’s Voice magazine had to fold and the anthology died with it. I’m happy for the start that’s online; but I was hoping to really get much more hard hitting pieces and from younger poets and teachers; I was really hoping to put a good strong book out there. I hope someone with more resources just grabs the idea and makes it happen. We as marginalized minority small press publishers always have a hard time. Here is the link to it as it is. http://www.the-teachers-voice.org/race_in_us_education_anthology.html

    I really don’t want it to die; but will maybe have to put the nails in the coffin and post that indeed it won’t go forward with it. I came across your site looking for what’s out there. So I’m so happy to see what you have in mind, exactly as you stated in your aims. If you can move the project forward, which I know is a lot of hard work, it would be fantastic. If there’s anything I can possibly do let me know; but you’re in a university setting and surrounded by young and old very smart people with energy, so no doubt you have everyone you may need to get started with within earshot. If you can get a small collective to back you up you should have no problem. You have both the contributors and the producers and the marketers for the anthology all within the Black Lives Matter itself too. I’m new to social media, very new, but blast the idea to all in the movement.

    My problem was I could not get together the collective and support that I needed and was too busy trying to find work to pay the bills and simply trying not to get so stressed out that I would get sick. The years have passed, I’m getting old, and I’m finally thinking more about my own life and work. And still, I can’t help being provoked by all the shit we have to deal with and looking for inspiration. Here is where I was this past weekend. The woman I write about, Kathleen Chang, could not show more conviction. In the end it became too much for her and she chose a tactic that only time will tell how effective. https://thepracticingpoet.edublogs.org/2016/10/23/kathy-change-memorial/

    It irks me that I went from producing more radical small press magazines like the U.S. Latino Review and The Teacher’s Voice to something more mainstream like my blog, but there it is…I’m just getting started so who knows what develops.

    Your idea for an anthology is too big and important to let pass up. If you circulate the idea, people have to come back you up.

    And if there is any way that we can collaborate to get both of our intended poetry anthologies done, please let me know. I would so welcome poetry from Black Lives Matter poets for the Race in Education Anthology.

    Best wishes,

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