For 80 days, I’ve opened up The 100 Best African American Poems and read one poem a day. With 20 days to go, I’ve got a few weeks of reading left. What a perfect way to start the day during Black History Month, reading our most prolific Black poets in this beautiful collection edited by Nikki Giovanni.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matters protests, I read several books about racism and was struck by the concept of”othering” as explained by Toni Morrison, in The Origin of Others. I had experienced that “othering” regard when I lived in France, but it had never prevented me from getting a job, or a place to live, or eating in a restaurant, or staying in a hotel. What if it had? What if that were my experience here, at home, in my own country? The fact is, this is the experience of many BIPOC Americans and residents in the US, an ugly truth I can no longer ignore.
When 100 Poems arrived at my local book store, I was overfull with new thoughts and concepts from the many books I had read. I surrendered myself to poetry where I could immerse myself in the familiar realm of feelings and I trusted Nikki Giovanni to guide me. Nikki had been my first poet. Her book Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day was the first book of poetry I ever owned, a gift from my mother after I placed in a poetry contest at 17. As a teen, I had copied whole stanzas of her poems into my journals to express what I had no words for yet.
The 100 Best African American Poems includes some of America’s finest poets, including Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Natasha Trethewey, Kwame Alexander ( her former student) and Kwame Dawes of Pacific University, where I work.
Read it all at once, listen to the CD that comes with the book, or do what I am doing: linger over one poem a day. Let it sink in that every person loves, strives, suffers and aims to stand up again. We will stand taller as a nation when we stop seeing each other as an “other” and help everyone to stand up and thrive.
P.S. And yet this is not an after-thought, but an after-discovery: here is another poem written on the occasion of the Biden/Harris Inauguration, by Jericho Brown, one of the poets in The 100 Best African American Poems and a winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Try reading this without tears Go on. Try.