Honor Black History Month by Discovering a Few New African American Poets

by Jourden V. Sander

As Black History Month closes, we at Feminine Inquiry wanted to pay tribute to all the wonderful authors and artists of color that are out there. I thought I would begin by highlighting a few excellent poets that are currently at work. And as a reminder, take this opportunity to expand your literary repertoire and read African American poets and authors not only this month, but all year long.

It only seems fair and just to dedicate this article to the recently deceased but forever remembered Maya Angelou:

Still I Rise

Maya Angelou, 19282014

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard

Jumping just a bit forward to the present, I have recently enjoyed poetry by Thomas Sayers Ellis, “Sticks” being my favorite as of late. Lines like “Resisting the clockwise twisting,” “Beat down, their bodies slammed,” and “Interjections like flams. Wham! Bam!” make for witty, fast-paced poetry that is a pleasure to consume as a reader, with a sheath of skills to learn from as a writer.

Sticks

By Thomas Sayers Ellis

My father was an enormous man
Who believed kindness and lack of size
Were nothing more than sissified
Signs of weakness. Narrow-minded,
His eyes were the worst kind
Of jury—deliberate, distant, hard.
No one could outshout him
Or make bigger fists. The few
Who tried got taken for bad,
Beat down, their bodies slammed.
I wanted to be just like him:
Big man, man of the house, king.
A plagiarist, hitting the things he hit,
I learned to use my hands watching him
Use his, pretending to slap mother
When he slapped mother.
He was sick. A diabetic slept
Like a silent vowel inside his well-built,
Muscular, dark body. Hard as all that
With similar weaknesses
—I discovered writing,
How words are parts of speech
With beats and breaths of their own.
Interjections like flams. Wham! Bam!
An heir to the rhythm
And tension beneath the beatings,
My first attempts were filled with noise,
Wild solos, violent uncontrollable blows.
The page tightened like a drum
Resisting the clockwise twisting
Of a handheld chrome key,
The noisy banging and tuning of growth.

The next poet on my list is Tracy K. Smith, and I can’t speak highly enough of her style and skill. There’s an aggressive yet subtle power to her form, as if there were more words and ideas hidden between each line. But don’t get me wrong, her poetry isn’t “abstract” or difficult to understand–at least, not line by line. It’s when you look at the bigger picture, piecing every stanza together, that really fills you with awe as you attempt to unpack the possible meanings to her poems. I really enjoyed “My God, It’s Full of Stars,” but given that it’s quite a long poem, I have only included the first section. If you’re a writer, I encourage you read it as this poem seems experimental or particularly modern in the sense that it has true numbered sections, different characters and topics, and a playful use of form. If you like the first section, continue reading it here on the Poetry foundation!

My God, It’s Full of Stars

By Tracy K. Smith

          1.
We like to think of it as parallel to what we know,
Only bigger. One man against the authorities.
Or one man against a city of zombies. One man
Who is not, in fact, a man, sent to understand
The caravan of men now chasing him like red ants
Let loose down the pants of America. Man on the run.
Man with a ship to catch, a payload to drop,
This message going out to all of space. . . . Though
Maybe it’s more like life below the sea: silent,
Buoyant, bizarrely benign. Relics
Of an outmoded design. Some like to imagine
A cosmic mother watching through a spray of stars,
Mouthing yes, yes as we toddle toward the light,
Biting her lip if we teeter at some ledge. Longing
To sweep us to her breast, she hopes for the best
While the father storms through adjacent rooms
Ranting with the force of Kingdom Come,
Not caring anymore what might snap us in its jaw.
Sometimes,  what I see is a library in a rural community.
All the tall shelves in the big open room. And the pencils
In a cup at Circulation, gnawed on by the entire population.
The books have lived here all along, belonging
For weeks at a time to one or another in the brief sequence
Of family names, speaking (at night mostly) to a face,
A pair of eyes. The most remarkable lies.
Continue reading African American authors by checking out some of these featured African American poets, essayists, and novelists, which includes a variety of work from authors of different origins and time periods.
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The author

Jourden Sander is the EIC of Feminine Inquiry. She is a writer, editor, tennis player, cosplayer, and anime geek who walks her stubborn corgi. She is a feminist and a fan of hot tea. She vaguely dislikes people who won't use the Oxford comma and finds it difficult to not repetitively use pronouns in a bio. She challenges you to a street race in her Mazda 3. She says hello.

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