poem index

Black History Month

To celebrate Black History Month in February—and the rich tradition of African American poetry all year long—browse essays on literary milestones and movements, find important books on black history and poetics, look for lesson plans for Black History Month, read archival letters from classic African American poets, and search poems about the African American experience by both classic and contemporary poets.

Featured Poems

Still I Rise
by Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history...

The Tradition
by Jericho Brown
Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thought...

The Weakness
by Toi Derricotte
That time my grandmother dragged me...

A Negro Love Song
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Seen my lady home las’ night...

In Tongues
by Tonya M. Foster
Because you haven't spoken...

by Langston Hughes
Hold fast to dreams...

by Georgia Douglas Johnson
Come, brothers all!

The Gift to Sing
by James Weldon Johnson
Sometimes the mist overhangs my path...

Irritable Mystic
by Nathaniel Mackey
His they their / we, their he...

“Also Birds” [excerpt]
by Dawn Lundy Martin
Here, a description of stalemate looking past shore. Here is the fragment...

by Claude McKay
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness...

All She Wrote
by Harryette Mullen
Forgive me, I’m no good at this...

The Book of Genesis
by Morgan Parker
Once I was:

Aubade: Some Peaches, After Storm
by Carl Phillips
So that each / is its own, now...

The Rule of Opulence
by Khadijah Queen
Bamboo shoots on my grandmother's side path...

from Citizen, I
by Claudia Rankine
A woman you do not know wants to join you for lunch. You are visiting her campus....

by Ed Roberson
There is nothing concrete to grasp in...

there is no flash
by Metta Sáma
the eyes     fine tuned     perhaps...

du bois in ghana
by Evie Shockley
at 93, you determined to pick up and go—

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Poetic Forms

Blues Poem
A blues poem typically takes on themes such as struggle, despair, and sex.

The Bop
Not unlike the Shakespearean sonnet in trajectory, the Bop is a form of poetic argument consisting of three stanzas.

Featured Video

Claudia Rankine: Situation One
A video-poem exploring the racial politics of Zinedine Zidane’s notorious head-butt at the 2006 World Cup.

Situation One

Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s Poets on Poetry (P.O.P.)
This video series features contemporary American poets who read both an original poem and a poem by another poet and reflect on their choice. Watch videos featuring Cornelius Eady, Ross Gay, Terrance Hayes, John Murillo, Roger Reeves, Tracy K. Smith, Afaa Michael Weaver, and many more.

Afaa Michael Weaver P.O.P. Video

Elizabeth Alexander: 2012 Blaney Lecture
Watch Chancellor Elizabeth Alexander present the Blaney Lecture at the 2012 Poets Forum and check out more videos from our Chancellors on YouTube.

Elizabeth Alexander's Blaney Lecture

Featured Essays

On Black Male Poetics
by Afaa M. Weaver
Despite their different choices, Hughes and Hayden had one thing in common. They loved living the life of the poet.

On Langston Hughes's The Weary Blues
by Kevin Young
An essay about the music and craft of the poems in The Weary Blues, as well as the history behind it.

Open Letter: A Dialogue on Race and Poetry
by Claudia Rankine
A transcript, with accompanying audio, of a presentation given by Rankine at the Associated Writing Programs Conference on February 4, 2011, with a response by Tony Hoagland.

The Metaphysics of American Journal
by Michael S. Harper
An essay on Robert Hayden’s poems, which transcend sociological definition with their expansive connotations. 

Tracy K. Smith and Elizabeth Alexander in Conversation
Known for the mysterious but utterly lucid quality of her poems, Smith writes a history that is sub-rosa yet fully within her vision.

Women of the Harlem Renaissance
by Anthony Walton
In the time of the Harlem Renaissance, race and gender often hindered the building of artistic careers.

It Don't Mean a Thing: The Blues Mask of Modernism
by Kevin Young
Young examines the rise of modernism and draws parallels between its growth and the growth of blues music.

Schools & Movements

Black Arts
Artists within the movement sought to create politically engaged work that explored the African American cultural and historical experience.

Dark Room Collective
It was the sustaining practice of writing in community just as much as the activist work of building a community-based reading series for writers of color.

Harlem Renaissance
No place embodied the new aesthetic more than Harlem, home to a thriving artistic scene including literary magazines like The Crisis, cafes, jazz clubs, and scores of reading venues.

Jazz Poetry
Writing about jazz poetry is, as they say, like dancing about architecture.

The movement is marked by its rejection of European colonization and its role in the African diaspora.

Often highly politicized, drawing upon racial, economic, and gender injustices as well as current events for subject manner.

Featured Books

Citizen: An American Lyric
by Claudia Rankine
In this collection, Academy Chancellor Rankine notes racial transgressions small and large in the classroom, at the store, on the tennis court with Serena Williams, online, on the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, and on the news—and examines the effects of these transgressions on the individual, the black community, and society as a whole.

The Bean Eaters
by Gwendolyn Brooks
Written during the early years of the Civil Rights Movement, during which the Brooks’s interest in social issues deepened and found expression in her work.

Sing the Sun Up: Creative Writing Ideas from African American Literature
edited by Teachers & Writers Collaborative
Written for teachers seeking to inspire and motivate their students to read and write, this text compiles a variety of exercises and lessons featuring the works of African American writers.

The Weary Blues
by Langston Hughes
The poems progress at a self-assured and lyrical pace—partly because Hughes expected them to be performed with musical accompaniment in the famous Harlem clubs of that era.

The Vintage Book of African American Poetry  
A vast narration of struggle, love, race, and redemption through the work of fifty poets.

Teaching Resources

The African American Experience
submitted by Madeleine Fuchs Holzer
Developed in collaboration with poet Rachel Eliza Griffiths and a group of New York City public school teachers, this unit focuses on “The Weakness” by Toi Derricotte.

submitted by New York City-teacher Gigi Goshko
This unit begins by defining spoken and written poetry and then moves into a more nuanced exploration of poetry as social commentary. 

A Reading Guide to Langston Hughes
This downloadable resource provides an overview of Hughes's life and work. 


Archival Letters

Ai's 1978 Letter

In this letter from our archive, Ai sends her materials to the Academy of American Poets after hearing that she has been selected as the winner of the Lamont Prize.

Here Ai makes a special point to say that she wishes to be referred to solely as “Ai.” She writes: “Please, please in all publicity call me Ai and nothing else. That’s the only name I want on the book and should be the only name you use. Hardly anyone knows who P. Ogawa is. Thanks.”

Ai was the recipient of the Lamont Prize, the Academy of American Poets’ second book prize, for Killing Floor (Houghton Mifflin, 1979), selected by judges Maxine Kumin, Philip Levine, and Charles Wright.

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Robert Hayden's 1975 Letter

In this letter from our archive, Robert Hayden responds to the news that he has been named the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Fellowship. In his letter he writes, “I am sensible of the honor bestowed upon me—one that I never expected to receive—and I am deeply moved by the fact that you and your distinguished Board of Chancellors have found merit in my work.” Modesty aside, by the time he wrote this letter in 1975, Hayden’s career had hit a notable stride begun with a number of honors he received in 1966.

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Langston Hughes's 1966 Letter

In the summer of 1966, Elizabeth Kray, then executive director of the Academy of American Poets, invited Langston Hughes, the leading poetic figure of the Harlem Renaissance, to read in New York City at the Guggenheim Museum with fellow New York poet Léonie Adams. In the letter, he writes, “In these rather dreary times, it might enliven the evening if I choose a selection of my humorous poems for our program, as I think I will …” The “dreary times” Hughes mentions likely refers to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and the escalating war in Vietnam.

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Ai's 1978 Letter
Robert Hayden's 1975 Letter
Langston Hughes's 1966 Letter