Audre Lorde wrote that poetry is not a luxury. It’s vital to our existence. “It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.” She wrote about how poetry has and continues to be an important aspect of our lives. Poetry reflects our realities and creates visions for how we want to live.
Whether you’re a long-time fan of poetry, or a reader looking to develop a love for the genre, April is the perfect time to dig deeper into poetry reading. National Poetry Month was created in 1996 by the National Poetry Association to encourage poetry awareness. It remains the largest literary celebration in the world.
Check out my five must-read poetry collections by Black writers to add to your reading list this month.
I Am the Rage by Dr. Martina McGowan
This collection focuses on life as a Black person living in the United States, so it’s raw and full of emotion. I felt sad reading it, but I also felt seen. McGowan captures the pain and constant feeling of being sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s not an angry book of poems, but it is intense. It covers a whole century of bottled-up frustration. The poems are driven by the despair of perpetual Black death at the hands of police and the anguish of trying to cope with it in the midst of a pandemic. The book forces the reader to bear witness to Black pain. It’s poetry that should be read and reread as a reminder of our dilemma in humanity. As racial injustice continues, this book is a response to the fight.
Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans
There is nothing more symbolic of Black girlhood than colorful, plastic barrettes, and there is no subject I adore more than Black girlhood and womanhood. So, I was excited when I first saw the cover of this poetry collection. Mans can put her whole heart on the page; you feel the emotion deep down in your spirit. When she recalls a memory that is triggering or inspirational, you feel your floodgates opening up. Black Girl, Call Home is full of history and tradition, memories, regrets, joy, hopes, and prayers of generations of Black women. With these poems, Mans does more than celebrate Black women and girls. She explores what it means to be a Black woman, feminism and racism, sexuality and rape culture, and simply belonging in a world that doesn’t really see you.
Home Body by Rupi Kaur
Kaur’s poetry is uncomplicated and concise. Believe it or not, her work has been criticized for being too simplistic. She’s certainly doing something right with her third collection. What I love about her work is that it’s relatable. She is a poet that always embraces growth, hope, and the journey to self-love. Kaur is literally not afraid of talking about any topic. She puts her soul to some intimate truths to which I am personally drawn. I find it inspiring that she writes from personal experience. Home Body is divided into four segments, and the poems feel like you’re having an honest conversation with a trusted friend. She stays true to her themes of love, loss, trauma, healing, femininity, and migration.
Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire
Remember the beautiful poetry that Beyonce’ recited in Lemonade? Well, that was the genius of Warsan Shire. This is her first full-length, poetry collection and it does not disappoint. These poems capture young Black womanhood, what it means to search for a home in the world, and what it means to inhabit a woman’s body. The collection is beautifully crafted and it feels like a gift she’s giving to you personally. The glossary was a great addition and although at times it was hard to read due to the challenging subject matter, Shire writes with such a graceful touch that makes it feel so easy. Incredibly moving collection and each poem is an experience.
Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman
The presidential inaugural poet delivers a poetry collection that is so alive. We were all spellbound by her performance then, and now she is showing us what she’s truly made of. Gorman’s poems in this collection are timely to our current moment of a global pandemic and racial inequality. Halfway through the book, she starts to be more creative and experimental by using historical documents from a century ago, to connect her poems to the present moment. She is insightful and her use of imagery is beautiful. Reading the book, you are engaged and also convicted. She challenges you to think her poems are about one thing but they are about something totally different.
So, reach for one or all of these collections this month. Read poetry with your heart and allow it to affect you. You never know what you will discover about yourself and the world around you.
Learn more about National Poetry Month here.
What's Your Reaction?
Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.