poem index

Black History


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Celebrate and explore the rich tradition of African American poetry through essays on literary milestones, intersections of music, poetry and art, and profiles and poems of historical and contemporary poets who continue to pioneer new ground while keeping an eye on the past.
Featured Poems 

Still I Rise
by Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history...

homage to my hips
by Lucille Clifton
these hips are big hips...

A Negro Love Song
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Seen my lady home las' night...

by Langston Hughes
Hold fast to dreams...

Irritable Mystic
by Nathaniel Mackey
His they their / we, their he...

"Also Birds" [excerpt]
by Dawn Lundy Martin
Here, a description of stalemate looking past shore. Here is the fragment...

by Claude McKay
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness...

All She Wrote
by Harryette Mullen
Forgive me, I’m no good at this...

Aubade: Some Peaches, After Storm
by Carl Phillips
So that each / is its own, now...

by Ed Roberson
There is nothing concrete to grasp in...

Featured Audio 

The Negro Speaks of Rivers Hear it!
by Langston Hughes
I've known rivers...

We Real Cool Hear it!
by Gwendolyn Brooks
We real cool. We...

A Lesson for This SundayHear it!
by Derek Walcott
The growing idleness of summer grass...

All Their Stanzas Look Alike (audio only) Hear it!
by Thomas Sayers Ellis
All their fences...

{C}{C}When Black People Are Hear it!
by A. B. Spellman
when black people are...

My Father's Love Letters Hear it!
by Yusef Komunyakaa
On Fridays he'd open a can of Jax...

I'm a Fool to Love You Hear it!
by Cornelius Eady
Some folks will tell you the blues is a woman...

The Day Duke Raised: May 24th, 1974 Hear it!
by Quincy Troupe
that day began with a shower...
Great Books 


Vintage Book of African American Poetry  
A vast narration of struggle, love, race, and redemption through the work of fifty poets.


The Bean Eaters
by Gwendolyn Brooks

Written during the early years of the Civil Rights movement, during which the Brooks's interest in social issues deepened and found expression in her work.


American Journal
by Robert Hayden

Hayden's poems, with their expansive connotations, transcend sociological definition. They are irreducible in their themes...


The Weary Blues
by Langston Hughes

The poems progress at a self-assured and lyrical pace—partly because Hughes expected them to be performed with musical accompaniment in the famous Harlem clubs of that era.

For the Classroom 

 Lesson Plan: Voice
Students participate in a series of learning activities employing interconnectivity between poems used and core texts to explore poetry as social commentary.
Poetic Forms 

Blues Poem
A blues poem typically takes on themes such as struggle, despair, and sex.

The Bop
Not unlike the Shakespearean sonnet in trajectory, the Bop is a form of poetic argument consisting of three stanzas.

Featured Poets 


Toi Derricotte
Together with Cornelius Eady, she co-founded the Cave Canem Foundation, a workshop retreat for black poets, in 1996.


Claude McKay
At the age of twenty, McKay published a book of verse called Songs of Jamaica, recording his impressions of black life in Jamaica in dialect, and his various poetic achievements helped set the tone for the Harlem Renaissance.


Marilyn Nelson
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Nelson served as the Poet Laureate of Connecticut from 2001-2006.


Claudia Rankine
A recipient of the 2005 Academy of American Poets Fellowship, Rankine is currently the Henry G. Lee Professor of English at Pomona College.

Schools & Movements 


Harlem Renaissance
No place embodied the new aesthetic more than Harlem, home to a thriving artistic scene of literary magazines like The Crisis, cafes, jazz clubs, and scores of reading venues.


The movement is marked by its rejection of European colonization and its role in the African diaspora.


Black Arts
Artists within the movement sought to create politically engaged work that explored the African American cultural and historical experience.


Jazz Poetry
Writing about jazz poetry is, as they say, like dancing about architecture.


Often highly politicized, drawing upon racial, economic, and gender injustices as well as current events for subject manner.


Dark Room Collective
It was the sustaining practice of writing in community just as much as the activism of building a community-based reading series for writers of color.

Featured Video 


Rita Dove: On Post-Racial Literature
"We haven't had the conversations we need to have about race and privilege...We're starting, so we're on our way."


Claudia Rankine: Situation One
A video-poem exploring the racial politics of Zinedine Zidane's notorious head-butt at the 2006 World Cup


From the White House: Poetry, Music & the Spoken Word
"What happens to the ones forgotten...?"

Featured Essays 


Women of the Harlem Renaissance
by Anthony Walton
In the time of the Harlem Renaissance, race and gender often hindered the building of artistic careers.


Tracy K. Smith in Conversation
Known for the mysterious but utterly lucid quality of her poems, Smith writes a history that is sub-rosa yet fully within her vision.


Sekou Sundiata: Defying Labels
Blues, jazz, funk, and Afro-Caribbean percussion surround the soulful voice of Harlem-born poet Sekou Sundiata on his recordings, The Blue Oneness of Dreams and Longstoryshort.


On Black Male Poetics
by Afaa M. Weaver

Despite their different choices, Hughes and Hayden had one thing in common. They loved living the life of the poet.

Recordings for Sale