Black Poets are Writing the History of Now

By Sarah Anderson, Chief Academic Officer

Black poets are writing the history of now. Some, like Amanda Gorman, are making history themselves. Most of you have probably heard her poem from Inauguration Day “The Hill We Climb,” or watched her perform at the Super Bowl. Gorman’s poetry is in the tradition of spoken word. The power, joy and wit comes from the sounds and rhythms she juxtaposes. You can read it, but it is best to hear it.

Other poetry is best seen. Eve L. Ewing is a sociologist at the University of Chicago, a former teacher, a comic book writer, and artist. Her writing combines precise observations of the world as it is with imaginary visions of a more hopeful future.

four boys on Ellis text

As she switches from printed text to handwriting, Ewing moves from observing a situation (like a sociologist) to imagining (like a poet), from the political to the personal, from powerlessness to magical escape, from this world to a better one.

Reginald Dwayne Betts’ uses the way words look on the page completely differently, forcing the reader to stop comfortably pretending and see what is really there. Betts was incarcerated for 9 years and is now both a poet and lawyer. He writes redaction poetry, also called blackout poetry, which means he takes existing texts and blacks out words to show us something essential. In this one, he has selected a legal document about people being held in jail because they cannot afford to pay traffic tickets.

In Alabama text

With most of the courts’ words gone, the injustice is stark.

I’ll leave you with Douglas Kearney, whose poem Every Hard Rapper’s Father Ever: Father of the Year, spectacularly captures voices on the page. Or maybe it captures in voice what he has written down? Either way, you need to see and hear this one. Listen here.

Douglas Kearney poem

Want more redaction poetry and art? Check out these public works redacting and revising newspapers by Alexandra Bell.

Thrilled by the way words sound, and how poetry, rap, social commentary and ideas can mingle? Listen to Have you Heard George’s Podcast in which Ugandan-British George the Poet somehow manages to review music while also spitting his own rhymes and telling stories.

Got poet and artist recommendations for me? Send them my way by email or on Twitter @SHCAnderson