June 4, 2020

Read, Support, & Buy The Work of Black Poets

As a formal statement of solidarity, the Kingsley & Kate Tufts Poetry Awards offers this blog.

The rich tradition of American poetry and poetics would be nothing without Black poets. If you claim to be an avid lover and reader of American poetry, you must read Black poets. If you teach poetry, your syllabus should be chock-full of Black poets. If you are a poet, you need to learn from Black poets’ craft. 

So buy their books. Read their work. Attend their readings. Ask your institutions to hire them. See to it that they are given tenure and opportunities for funding. Demand the boards of whatever foundation/organization to support them—better yet, demand that they have seats on those boards. Call out the publishers who do not publish enough Black poets. Call out the publishing companies who do not have enough Black publishers. Call out the panels, schools, and/or events that do not care to invite Black poets, or use them to perform empty displays of “diversity.” The list goes on and on.

Some Black poets that the Tufts Awards has honored or interviewed in the past.

The literary world and academia is guilty of not prizing the work and scholarship of Black poets and thinkers for what they are worth—if that were the case, English departments and the publishing world would look very, very different. If you are for Black lives, you are for Black poets. If you are for Black poets, there are actionable steps to take in whatever institutions you are a part of to support them.

Here’s a small list of books/poems by Black poets that I’ve been reading/re-reading as of late:

The Black Maria by Aracelis Girmay
“Stay Safe” by Luther Hughes
Magical Negro by Morgan Parker
Thief in the Interior by Phillip B. Williams
The Big Book of Exit Strategies by Jamaal May
—“Mirror” by Rita Dove
—“Let my anger be the celebration we were never / supposed to have.” and “Living on a ghost Plantation / Love Poem” by Natasha Oladokun
—“Arco” by Faylita Hicks
Library of Small Catastrophes by Alison C. Rollins
—“The Current Isolationism” by Camille Rankine
—“Badu Interviews Lamar” by Camonghne Felix

If you want to see a list of previous Black Tufts Award winners, click here to read the list.

The majority of poets on this list have been published in Poetry Magazine and their work is linked to the Poetry Foundation’s website. Write the Poetry Foundation and ask them to donate to bail funds and Black Lives Matter. Ask them to be be explicit about their support of Black lives. Many, many pages of Poetry Magazine would be empty without Black poets—they need to show up with their purse.

The movement is not a moment—Black Lives Matter.

2016 Kingsley & Kate Tufts Poetry Award winners, Ross Gay and Danez Smith, embrace at the awards ceremony.

—Stacey Park