In December, The New York Times invited noted writers, actors and public figures to share their favorite poems, reaching out to people like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Elena Ferrante Tavi Gevinson, Lena Dunham and Junot Díaz, among others.
After reading the published list, Tabia Alexine, a Los Angeles-based curator and creative, was disappointed. “It was a compelling group, but not as diverse and intersectionally colorful as I’d hoped,” she explained to The Huffington Post. Soon after, Alexine embarked on a project of her own, reaching out to young writers of color she admired to bring the original list the multiplicity both readers and writers deserve.
Alexine collected the perspectives of 20 new voices, each explaining the power of a single poem. “The responses reflect a spectrum of experience among the writers,” she explained. “But I did notice that several poems discussed discovery, social justice, and resistance through existence and survival.”
Looking forward, Alexine hopes future articles in outlets like The New York Times will represent a wider range of backgrounds and perspectives. And that the cultural landscape at large will follow suit. “I hope to see poetry and art by talented persons of color more widely distributed via TV, film, in commercials, at events, galleries, and conferences,” she continued. “I love seeing books like The Breakbeat Poets sold at major retailer, Barnes & Noble. I also believe performance poets and writers deserve increased honorariums for their work. I want to be a catalyst, pushing all of those things forward.”
Right in time for Black History Month, Alexine’s diversified anthology speaks to the importance of poetry to voices too often marginalized or silenced. “It can be such a powerful platform for truth-telling, disruption, affirmation, and empathy,” she said. “The vulnerability and realness I’ve witnessed within the poetry world is unlike any other medium in my mind. These 20 individuals are unapologetically taking up space and making noise as writers, activists, performers, educators, literary editors, students, and so much more.”
Learn about their favorite poems, and the stories behind them:
1. Jamila Woods
“I recently discovered Audre Lorde’s poetry collection, The Black Unicorn, on a friend’s bookshelf. ‘A Woman Speaks‘ struck me because of the economy of language and her unapologetic declaration of her power as a black woman. I love the lines: ‘moon marked and touched by sun / my magic is unwritten’ and, ‘beware my smile / I am treacherous with old magic and the noon’s new fury.’
“To me this poem is a mantra and an affirmation. Black girl magic is not a new phenomenon. Audre Lorde’s poem gives me permission to own my magic and inspires me to constantly search for new language to describe it.”
Jamila Woods is a singer and poet based in Chicago. She is Associate Artistic Director of Young Chicago Authors and member of the Dark Noise Collective.
2. Fatimah Asghar
“I’ve read ‘Delores Jepps‘ by Tim Seibles every single day since the new year has started. I love Tim’s work in general: his playful narrative explorations, his love songs to the world, his persona poems. He’s such a versatile and splendid writer. This poem is my favorite in the collection Fast Animal. It’s such a sweet memory of infatuation and the innocence in it is such a delight: ‘she’d be standing soaked / in schoolday morning light’ and ‘the gloss on her lips sighed / kiss me and you’ll never / do homework again.’
“I love the way that Tim explores these wonderfully simple moments, the loneliness of youth and how a teenage heart full of love and longing can sometimes be enough to serve as protection from the cruelty of the world.”
Fatimah Asghar is a poet based in Chicago, and a member of the Dark Noise Collective. Her chapbook, “After,” was published by YesYes Books in the fall of 2015.
3. Camonghne Felix
“I’m pretty sure that ‘Star Gazing‘ by Dominique Christina will always be the most important poem I have ever experienced. ‘Star Gazing’ is the first poem about sexual assault that brought me to tears. It’s the first poem ever to bring me a concrete sense of healing and every time I watch it, I cry. Like hiccuping, mascara bleeding, ugly, joyful tears. It gives me new perspective by which to talk about and understand my assault.
“This poem allows me to feel joy and happiness while still confronting the violence of rape. Instead of reflecting on the pain of the assault and the person who hurt me, I reflect on the first time I willingly gave myself to someone. I reflect on how loved, protected and beautiful I feel every time I am with my current partner. It reminds me that, though the assault may have left my dignity compromised, it wasn’t stolen. My body is still mine. The choice is still mine. And I am nobody’s victim, especially because I survived. ‘God bless the girl who goes back for her body.'”
Camonghne Felix is a poet, writer and speechwriter to Governor Andrew Cuomo. Her first collection of poetry, Yolk, was published by Penmanship Books in March of 2015. You can find her work on various platforms, including Teen Vogue and Poetry Magazine.
4. Alok Vaid Menon
“Author of ‘The Moon is Trans,’ Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, is consistently one of my favorite poets because she effortlessly captures the daily trials and tribulations of navigating the world as not just a trans body, but a body, period.
“In a cultural moment when trans narratives are only invited to the table when we are inspirational and resilient, Joshua Jennifer Espinoza creates a space for us to be trans and angry, trans and sad, trans and hurt. I think her work is so politically important this poem in particular is striking to me with how unapologetic it is, with how powerful the vision is of a world where transness is just accepted simply for being, not just for doing.”
Alok Vaid Menon is a South Asian trans femme performance artist and one half of …read more
Read more here: 20 Young Writers Of Color Share Their Favorite Poems