As a creative writing student obsessed with how poets today are redefining the genre, I think there’s a wealth of information that these female POC authors have taught me. Emily Dickinson once said, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” These poets take your brain out, shake it up, spin it around, throw it into a forest, wash it, then put it back into your skull without you even noticing because you’re so fervently engrossed in their verse. They’re that good.
I think poetry doesn’t get as much love as it should these days. There seems to be a few authors that make their way into the mainstream like Rupi Kaur or Tyler Knott Gregson, but most of these talented poets don’t get quite the readership they deserve. These women have worked to make poetry accessible, while saying something irrefutably honest. These poets will make you want to pull out a pen and paper and get writing, or, at least, give you an existential crisis; but doesn’t all good literature do that?
1. Nicole Sealey
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Executive director of the Cave Canem Foundation, Sealey makes sure that black voices are heard. One example of this is in her poem, “Legendary,” which is dedicated to Pepper LaBeija, “the last remaining queen of the Harlem drag balls.”
I hate to brag, but I’m a one-man parade,
Jehovah in drag, the church in a dress.
Outside these walls I may be irrelevant,
but here I’m the Old and the New Testament.
She writes a series of these “Legendary” poems that serve as mini-biographies of these underground pivotal figures that have been forgotten by most of the world. Her latest poetry book, Ordinary Beasts, features these poems, a poem about Clue, the board game, followed by a poem called “C ue,” an erasure poem of “Clue,” and “candelabra with heads,” in which the second half of the poem is the first half, repeated backwards. Sealey’s choice to play with formal poetic structures nods toward a reclaiming of the old, while creating the new.
2. Morgan Parker
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Graduating with an MFA from NYU, Morgan Parker writes about many themes that cross over multiple conversations, one of which is being a black woman in America, today. In her newest book, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, Parker tends to focus on black men and women in media, on how others perceive blackness, and on how black individuals may see themselves. The poem “The President Has Never Said the Word Black” was written when Obama was president, and it seems to talk about how, by not saying the word “black,” the president affects the black community.
The president is all like
five on the bleep hand side.
The president be like
we lost a young boy today.
The pursuit of happiness
is guaranteed for all fellow Americans.
3. Franny Choi
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She’s a badass and I want to be like her. Her latest poetry book Floating, Brilliant, Gone focuses on conversations around memory and identity. Aozora Brockman of [PANK] magazine wrote, that this is an example of “an Asian American woman…flinging back sickening truths hidden within a cat-calling man’s words, delving…into the consumerist desires that fuel sexism and racism.”
Choi is also known for her slam poetry. Featured on the Button Poetry YouTube channel various times, she attacks sexism and racism on the stage as well. In my favorite poem by her, entitled “Pussy Monster,” she reorganizes the Lil’ Wayne song of the same name to show the sexism that infects rap songs today.
4. Bhanu Kapil
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Kapil is a British-Indian poet who tends toward the prose/poetry genre that is not quite either genre. This in-betweenness, in my opinion, helps to tell her story. She tends to write in lists, finding the poetic value in prosy texts. Each sentence she writes becomes a puzzle to unlock. I find that her work follows me around as I go about my day.
In her most recent book of poetry, Ban En Banlieue, she compiles performances, notes, fragments of works that come together in a list, each “annotation,” a full narrative journey.
“78. ‘It’s getting dusky over the Makhatini flats. Last night, I told P. I did not want to continue seeing him when I returned to New York. I believe, in breaking up with him, I compared myself to a Safeway rotisserie chicken. I said I didn’t want to be one.'”
5. Natalie Diaz
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Born in the Fort Mojave village in California, Diaz often uses her upbringing, living in this community, to fuel her poetry. “For me writing is kind of a way for me to explore…a kind of hunger that comes with being raised in a place like this.” This may be why she often incorporates Mojave and Spanish into her poetry.
In her most recent book, When My Brother Was an Aztec¸ she plays with enjambment to create the effect of organization, that is then broken. This creates an effect of the message being uncontainable.
From her poem “When My Brother Was an Aztec”:
“It started with him stumbling along la Avenida de los Muertos,
my parents walking behind like effigies in a procession
he might burn to the ground at any moment. They didn’t know
what else to do except be there to pick him up when he died.
They forgot who was dying, who was already dead. My brother
Quit wearing shirts when a carnival of dirty-breasted women…”
Did I mention she’s also a basketball prodigy?
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