When I was writing my latest blog post about Essence magazine, I mentioned that every month the poetry was hidden in the very back of the magazine, and how insulting I thought this was.
But I didn’t say that, before the poetry in Essence was regulated to the “colored section,” there used to be a place of honor for Black writers–poets and fiction writers– in Essence. I remember reading the “literary” works of Alice Walker and June Jordan, and works by such “commercial” writers such as BeBe More Campbell and Terry McMillan–not that there’s any real difference between “literary” and “commercial” to begin with.
And then, all that fabulousness stopped.
What I didn’t say in my last blog post is that I also think that our (Black) publications set the tone for what we think is important in our community. And since Essence moved from a cultural publication that was also fun, fly, and fashion forward, to a distant cousin of that, the message to the readers of Essence was that reading is not fundamental—at least not for Black folks.
Yesterday, I was thinking, Hey, my blog ain’t no Essence Magazine, but I am a Black poet, and I write poetry and I know a lot of sassy Black folks who write poetry, too. I mean, I know a lot of Black poets.
You know, back in the day, Black folks used to love their poets—Langston Hughes traveled the South as a young man, and Black people crowded to see him: Poor people. People without formal education. People who knew that Brother Langston loved them. Believe it or not, not a lot has changed about Black poets–we still love our community and our folks.
But what seems to have changed is that lately, Black writers, especially poets, don’t seem to get a lot of love back from the people.
You know what, though? I ain’t here to yell at nobody. I’m just an optimistic Sister, and I think that there are some folks out there just looking for me–and other folks like me–to let them know where the good stuff is.
So with that in mind, I decided to start a Black Library Girl feature on this blog for New Black Poetry, so y’all can see that it is possible for Black poetry to be fabulous and real—something regular people would like to read, and not just siddity folks who talk to other siddity folks, and all them folks only eat real teeny, tiny food on little, bitty plates.
Despite the bad press, we Black poets do enjoy us some chicken wings and ribs on a semi-regular basis.
And then, of course, y’all know I have to “rep” the OG Black poets, like Brother Langston, so I’ll also feature some “Throwback Poetry Jams”—some of my favorite poems from back in the day. Some you may already know these poems, but I’m hoping to introduce at least a few folks to some lost classics.
Of course, I will still be conducting my “You Gotta Read This” podcast–click the BLUE button on the left, y’all, to hear past podcasts–on a pretty regular basis as well, featuring interviews with fabulous poets, fiction writers, and non-fiction writers who are of African descent or who write about people of African descent.
Since this is my blog—smile—I’m going to start this New Black Poetry thing off. I’ve been writing my you-know-what off for the last few months; I wrote the following poem a little while ago for a pretty, young thing that passed me by.
Despite the title, he was several years past legal, y’all. I promise.
Ode to Youngblood
for A. M.
Brother, lover—pretty, flaky thing—
knock & bring your present, ask this house
a few unusual requests.
Ask the color blue, for example.
Tap on the door, ask this house,
reach out a knocking hand.
I hear your threshold blues.
Keep still two seconds, baby
Reach out a hand.
I promise. It will come to that.
Keep still—now move—
now touch that place just opening—
I promise—I will
There is a cup of something waiting
if you open the door:
find out and see.
There is water to drink, waiting
on the table, on this woman’s skin.
Find the blues on that surface.
Show some tight perception.
There is time left on my skin.
It’s spring—for now, I mean.
I hear those other heartbeats,
the sounds new creatures make.
It’s spring now. Wait a minute, wait
Weeks ago the ice came down—
sounds of hurt creatures
covered that tree by my front door.
How the ice came down—
it was a prison—
killing the tree by my door, the one
you said you’d chop down for me.
Stay, stay, baby & hold me
Take what you want from this house:
my body, my good name, all my clothes,
my Teacake, my Youngblood, my nearly-here thing.