We’ve all heard about Shakespeare, Frost, and Whitman. Sure, they’re great writers and successful poets. But, poetry has largely been dominated by white men, so writing about diversity, and any sense of inclusivity, has often taken the backseat. Black female poets like Lucy Terry did not have the same privileges as these white men, but still found a way to create art. “Bars Fight” was the first recorded poem by an African American, dating back to 1746. It was preserved musically for years, but was not published until 1855 (Oxford Reference). Terry’s art is an incredible feat. Yet, I did not hear about her once in high school. Black literature seems to be muffled in education. And it’s especially heartbreaking in terms of what poetry stands for — it paints the human experience, and everyone is entitled to that.
But here’s to 2022. Partly thanks to poetry becoming more mainstream and programs like Cave Canem, Blackberry magazine, and Young Black Poets Time Project, there is a wave of black poets coming forward and guiding a new era of poetry. Though there’s still a long way to go, specifically in education, we can still celebrate some of these inspirations:
Juliana Huxtable is a mixed media artist, photographer, and DJ who centers her poetry around the bustling nightlife of New York and Berlin. Spanning from topics like sexuality and generational trauma to political power structures, she captures a sense of empowerment that refuses to fit into one artistic category. She experiments with language in a way that is both vividly powerful and ambiguous. As a black trans woman, she uses her multidisciplinary art to spread awareness, but also to challenge what visibility can do to marginalized communities. In 2017 she released her first anthology of literature: “Mucus in My Pineal Gland”.
So, feel free to check out some of these poems here.
She’s also an incredible performer, and I really enjoyed watching her read “Train”:
Bettina Judd is an artist, researcher, and professor who uses a mix of creative and essay writing to explore feminism and to challenge biased institutions. In 2014 she won the Black Lawrence Press Hudson Book Prize for her collection of poems, Patient. In it, she addresses America’s medical experimentation on black women and argues for ethical treatment. I love her use of double meanings and how her style has a certain melody to it—I can’t get enough of it.
So, here are three poems of hers that I recommend reading.
And check out her website here.
You might remember hearing Amanda Gorman recite her poem “The Hill We Climb” at Biden’s inauguration — she was 22, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. This cum laude Harvard graduate has become the face of 21st-century poetry and her sensational command of language proves it. She was also the first poet to perform at the Superbowl and even strutted her way to the 2021 met gala. My favorite poem of hers is “Ship’s Manifest” where she blends rhythm and vibrant metaphors together, while effortlessly wielding literary devices that create a beat that you can’t help but bob your head to. She extends poetry to the political in an effort to change the world, maybe to become president one day; if that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.
Check out “Ship’s Manifest”.
As an aspiring poet, I love learning from these successes. But, I wish my high school expanded its English programs to include diverse women artists. Black contemporary poets like Juliana, Bettina, and Amanda, are challenging the racist roots of a historically white medium. Poetry has come a long way in becoming inclusive. It’s a great start, but education really needs to step its game up when it comes to black literature.