The award-winning poet, Nikki Giovanni, selected 100 of the most awe inspiring African American Poems of our time. The featured poems vary from contemporary to classic; structured to freeform. The authors displayed are from all walks of life; from Langston Hughes to Tupac Shakur and countless others.
Poems about slavery and racism are to be expected in such a book. But there was also an array of poems about family, GOD, music, love, and so much more. The editor, Ms. Giovanni, organized the poems in such a way that the book really flowed from one topic to the next effortlessly. At times, I felt as though I were in the fields picking cotton; other times I felt I were in a 5th floor apartment building smelling the sweet aroma of momma’s fried chicken and biscuits; other times, still, I felt I was in a lover’s arms wrapped up warm and snug.
At times, I found myself rereading lines and having to decipher the meaning behind each word. That was one of the great things about this book. It wasn’t an easy read. It required your full attention. It needs your intelligence to be focused and your creativity to be standing at attention. This poetry is deep and spiritual. One of my favorite poems in the book which speaks to that fact, is by Kwame Alexander, a poet, educator, and the New York Times Bestselling author of 24 books. It’s called Dancing Naked on the Floor. Here’s an excerpt:
“write a poem that works…has a job and does it…promptly…follows rules and responsibilities…gets a raise or at least a head nod…and when it’s not feeling well…give it sense enough to call in sick…and not waste our time with unmet expectations…write a poem that has a family…not some single life of soiled one-night stands…I mean your poem should be in a serious relationship…let it commit to something…move beyond soap opera sex…let it be passionate…about something…and if it gets excited…if it just has to get physical…let it be in the privacy of its own beautiful mind…cause we can watch cable at home…”
Other great works include Tonya Maria Matthews poem, The Untitled Superhero Poem. My favorite line says, “Faster than lazy welfare house hoes, more powerful than non-voting Negroes, able to relate to unsuspecting White Folk in a single conversation.”
Author and poet, Nikki Giovanni also adds a few of her own poems to the mix. One of my favorite poems of hers is entitled, Ego Tripping (There May Be a Reason Why). I first fell in love with this poem in the 90’s after watching an episode of A Different World. If you’re unfamiliar, A Different World was a sitcom about black college life in the 90’s. It featured Hollywood’s Black royalty such as Lisa Bonet, Cree Summers, Jazmine Guy, and Jada Pinkett-Smith. One of my favorite episodes features the students giving a show in which the character, Kim, portrays Mammie, a fictional caricature invented in the 1850’s. The Mammie caricature was designed as a representative for the average slave. It aimed to show black women as fat, happy, maternal, and loyal to their white owners. Many blacks rejected the depiction for obvious reasons, but some also took offense to the physical portrayal of black women. The episode of A Different World dealt with the stigma that some dark-skinned women feel surrounding their skin complexion and how they are sometimes unfairly viewed as unattractive. But as the character, Kim soon discovers, Mammie is a part of our history, and remains a part of the conversation on race. Kim plays Mammie during a school performance on one of the episodes, but quickly transforms in a beautiful goddess, all while reciting parts of Nikki Giovanni’s poem, Ego Tripping. It was powerful moment for me as a young black girl, to see a beautiful dark-skinned queen, but also to hear the words of the poem, “I turned myself into myself and was Jesus.” Yes, GOD might be a black woman, now pipe down!
I was surprised to also find a poem by Countee Cullen, a prominent African American poet during the Harlem Renaissance, about Baltimore. The poem is entitled, The Incident.
“…Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue and called me, ‘Nigger.’
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.”
Here is a list of some of my other favorite poems from the book:
- The Creation by James Weldon Johnson
- Ballad of Birmingham by Dudley Randall
- No Images by Waring Cuney
- Beneath Me by Jericho Brown (so good)
- Mama’s Promise by Marilyn Nelson
- Freedom Candy by E. Ethelbert Miller
- The Supremes by Cornelius Eady
- That and Some Mo’ by Dj Renegade (so good)
- Harriet Tubman’s Email 2 Master by Truth Thomas (so good)
- Rochelle by Reuben Jackson
- Poetry Should Ride the Bus by Ruth Forman
“…stop being an instant yes machine…” From A Poem to Compliment Other Poems by Haki R. Madhubuti.
This was a great book. If you like poetry, I’d recommend you pick this up from your local library and give it a read. I will admit that not all the poems held my attention. For that reason, I didn’t read this book cover to cover. If I didn’t find the poem interesting from the first five lines or so, I moved on to the next one. In this way the book was far more enjoyable, because I only devoted my time and energy to reading the poems that held my interest. The book also comes with an audio CD, which is great for a peaceful commutes and long road trips, or for those of you who love to listen, but don’t particularly enjoy your eyes meeting inked paper. Either way you slice it, this book contains some of the best literature African Americans have contributed to society. Get it, read it, grow from it.
Until Next Time…