Here is a random selection of 20th century black American poets and samples of their poems for readers as we celebrate Black History Month in February. Let us start with US poet laureate Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000). This poem (in its entirety here) can be found in many high school and college English textbooks and many poetry anthologies:
We Real Cool
THE POOL PLAYERS.
SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Poets often write poems in homage of other poets. I include Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem (also in its entirety) about African-American poet Langston Hughes (1902-1967), an early writer of “jazz poetry” and leader of the Harlem Renaissance, in the hope that readers will seek out and read his poetry and the poetry of others sampled here.
is merry glory.
Yet grips his right of twisting free.
Has a long reach,
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)—an excerpt
It may be misery not to sing at all
And to go silent through the brimming day
It may be sorrow never to be loved
But deeper griefs than these beset the way.
His wife, Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson (1875-1935), an excerpt
Pitifully calling me, the quick ones and the slain?
You need me Christ! It is no roseate dream
That beckons me—this pretty futile seam,
It stifles me—God, must I sit and sew?”
Claude McKay (1889-1948)—an excerpt
Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes
Blown by black players upon a picnic day,
She sang and danced on gracefully and calm,
The light gauze hanging loose about her form.
Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) (1934-2014)—an excerpt
And now, each night I count the stars,
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.
There are many young black poets writing and performing in the 21st century in rap, hip-hop styles, and fusions. Many are not glorifying drugs or lacing their work with vulgar language and misogyny. There are many who are writing strong commentaries on socio-economic conditions and poignant love songs as poets have done for centuries. Teachers, read some to your students. Parents, listen to the modern poems your children are listening and dancing to.
I will be conducting poetry workshops and readings on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota during April 2019, National Poetry Month. Time and dates to be announced. Till then read some poetry.