Every year, the mainstream literary gates seem to open just that much wider to allow for more diverse stories and voices. To help push those gates open even further, National Black Poetry Day, which falls on Oct. 17 each year, was founded in 1985. The day is as much about bringing awareness to Black poets as it is a celebration of the poets who have been relentless in putting pen to paper, regardless of the mainstream attention.
In celebration of this year’s Black Poetry Day, we’ve rounded up a list of 20 contemporary Black poets who span generations, backgrounds, and even mediums.
“of hours I was told there was a cure for this. I was told the darkness
would surrender its weapons & retreat I know of no devils who evict themselves,”
The award-winning poet, essayist, and culture critic’s debut essay collection, “They Can’t Kill Us Unless They Kill Us,” released in 2017, was such an iconic first attempt, the book will be receiving a second act through a new hardback edition out this November. In the meantime, apart from a limited edition release chapter book no longer available, Abdurraqib has four more titles including two poetry collections, “The Crown Ain’t Worth Much” and “A Fortune For Your Disaster”, which you can enjoy.
“You are you even before you
grow into understanding you
are not anyone, worthless,
not worth you,”
In 2015, a young Black woman was spotted at a Trump rally with her nose in a book. That book was none other than “Citizen: An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine. Albeit an accidental protest, the irreverent act also pushed Rankine’s poetry collection further into the mainstream. More than five years later, Rankine is still penning the words that help us get by.
“The crescent moon,
The night’s lucent lesion.
We are felled oaks beneath it,
Branches full of empty.
What we share is more
Than what we’ve shed,”
The youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, Gorman stole the hearts of the country in 2021 with her elegant Inauguration Day poem, “The Hill We Climb” and has since been turning heads with her simultaneous rise as a fashion star. According to her website, Gorman has three books forthcoming but for those who can’t wait, she has a children’s book and a poetry collection, “Call Us What We Carry” out now.
“And shake it like a man who’s lost and lived.
Something keeps trying, but I’m not killed yet,”
From “Psalm 150”
The Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet, a native of Shreveport, La. who is the grandchild of sharecroppers, once said he didn’t think he knew Black people anymore. He was stepping into a greater awareness of how diverse the Black experience, even in this country alone, can be. For a poet willing to admit how little he understands, his work has helped and continues to help answer questions about identity for many.
“I’m a patch of grass the stringy roots
you call home or sister if you want
I could scratch your eyes make hip-hop die again,”
Parker is an award-winning poet, novelist, and tattoo enthusiast, who keeps up with the discourse on Twitter like the best of ‘em. Forthcoming is a work of nonfiction, out now she has three poetry collections including “Magical Negro” and “There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé,” along with the young adult novel “Who Put This Song On?”
“Alive, how many nights did I spend knelt between
the knees of gods and men begging for rain, rent,
and reasons to remain? A body like the sky seeking
justice. A body like light reaching right down into the field
where you thought you could hide from me,”
From “A Memory”
Many frequently quip that we are currently, or soon approaching, the “end times.” Jones adds his take on the thought-provoking concept with his latest poetry collection, “Alive At The End of The World.” He is also the author of the memoir, “How We Fight For Our Lives,” and the poetry collection “Prelude to Bruise.”
“Some music might have happened Someone
was probably peeing Yeast & salt sweetened the air A napping baby
might have sneezed A cornrow was unraveling,”
A poet, visual artist, and professor of composition and creative writing, Scott, focuses her work on “somatic presentations of trauma, how we use our bodies to negotiate real and perceived boundaries, and the corporeality of rage and silence,” according to her website. This area of focus is ever-present in her debut poetry collection, “Marrow,” released earlier this year.
“I want to believe Don West
when he writes: none of mine
ever made their living by driving slaves,”
Priest’s 2020 poetry collection, “Horsepower”, was selected by U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey as the winner of the Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. A year later, Priest was the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. In 2023, an anthology edited by Priest, “Once a City Said: A Louisville Poets’ Anthology” is expected to be published.
“You look like
you lost the Psalm in your own song–
like you want to talk to God
but you’re afraid
because ya’ll ain’t spoke in so long,”
From “Footnotes for Kanye”
The Resident Poet of the Newark Library, Mans is a multimedia poet and artist who has produced content ranging from written work to video and performance pieces. Following 2012’s “Chalk Outlines of Snow Angels,” Mans went viral in 2015 with her poem “Footnotes for Kanye,” which is featured in 2021’s “Black Girl, Call Home.”
“Speak nicely to others & they will nicely
speak to you, your mother said. No, not so, you said fairly
close to the end. No time to wait for mother’s ride home or for saviors, coming soon,”
Harvey is the author of the poetry collection “You Don’t Have To Go To Mars for Love”, winner of the Believer Book Award for Poetry, and “Hemming the Water,” winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Harvey has also contributed to the Marvel cannon, co-writing “Marvel’s World of Wakanda” with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay and also collaborating with Coates on 2017’s “Black Panther & the Crew.”
“Probably twilight makes blackness dangerous
Darkness. Probably all my encounters
Are existential jambalaya. Which is to say,
A nigga can survive,”
Hayes’ recent publications include “American Sonnets for My Past And Future Assassin,” winner of the Hurston/Wright 2019 Award for Poetry; and “To Float In The Space Between: Drawings and Essays in Conversation with Etheridge Knight,” winner of the Poetry Foundation’s 2019 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism and a finalist for the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism. 2023 will see both a new collection of poems and a collection of essays from Hayes.
“15. (I thought to leave this blank
but who am I to name us nothing?),”
“What I wanted: a practice that reassured
that what was cracked could be mended
or, at least, suspended so that it could not spread.
But now I wonder: better to be the egg or scaled
Kelly, a professor of English at the University of Iowa, resides in the state with her wife, fellow writer Melissa Febos. Her latest work, “The Renunciations,” published in 2021, won the Anisfield-Wolf book award in poetry.
Tracy K. Smith
“It’s impossible not to want
To walk into the next room and let you
Run your hands down the sides of my legs,
Knowing perfectly well what they know,”
from “I Don’t Miss It”
Smith, the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2017 to 2019, has published four poetry collections, including her most recent, “Wade in the Water” (2018), and one memoir, “Ordinary Light“ (2015), a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction.
A man who knows his flaws but isn’t willing to change
them Or a man who is blinded to his own inadequacies
The answer is both, Or Neither,”
Perhaps best known as the Season 15 winner of “America’s Got Talent,” earlier this year, the spoken word poet, educator, and artist published his debut poetry collection, “Unraveling”, which deals with themes of self-love.
“It is mostly you, but, not always. After all you gotta eat too,”
From “King of Kreations”
Nafis, who has teamed up with fellow poet Morgan Parker on projects like the Other Black Girl Collective, has work published both in print and online at The BreakBeat Poets Anthology, The Rumpus, Poetry Magazine, Buzzfeed Reader, and more, including a 2021 volume of poetry titled “BlackGirl Mansion.” Nafis currently facilitates writing workshops in Brooklyn, where she resides.
“the drone was built by a man the drone killed a man & a woman & a child the drone killed a child,”
From “The Drone”
Following his #1 bestselling nonfiction work, “How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America,” Smith returns to poetry in his upcoming book, “Above Ground” slated for release March 28, 2023. In his newest work, the Atlantic staff writer and poet tackles what it’s like to navigate fatherhood and the emotions that accompany the life-changing act of becoming a parent.
“He is hundreds of miles
away right now, probably,
sitting in a chair, staring
at the wall like a former assailant,”
Bennett, a professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College, has three poetry collections under his belt. His most recent books are “Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man” and “Owed,” both released in 2020.
“I break it if I bought it,
I own it if I caught it,
I spend it if I got it.”
According to lore, a lot of William Shakespeare’s famous sonnets were written for a mysterious “Dark Lady.” The multitalented poet, cookbook author, and writer Williams, along with lyricist Paul Vasterling, have lifted those sonnets and created a contemporary ballet that gives a face and a name to Shakespeare’s Dark Lady in “Lucy Negro, Redux.”
“Our Black friends, celebrating
with hors d’oeuvres. Our Black children
The picture book “The ABCs of Black History,” landed writer and poet Cortez on the New York Times Bestseller List in 2019. Her debut poetry collection, “Golden Ax,” published this year, was longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry.
Kay Wicker is a lifestyle writer for theGrio covering health, wellness, travel, beauty, fashion, and the myriad ways Black people live and enjoy their lives. She has previously created content for magazines, newspapers, and digital brands.
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