This post is part of the Reading Writers of Color 2021 challenge hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media’s staff writer and editor, Dan Michael Fielding.
My family has always been deeply involved in the writing of poetry. My mother has a creative writing master’s degree with an emphasis in poetry, and my grandfather has written poetry his entire life without any formal training. So I’ve seen “both sides”–the people who are so moved to write poetry that they’ve deeply studied the forms, and the people who are so moved to write that they can’t possibly slow down long enough to study anything!
I’m a dabbler in poetry, but within the last few years I’ve been pushing myself to more carefully read and study poetry in all its forms. I started where I left off in my poetry studies: 10th-grade English class, where we read the work of Edgar Allen Poe, ee cummings, Emily Dickinson, and other similar poets.
We’d read a poem, sometimes two, from one of these authors and then move on to the next one in the textbook. cummings was the closest we got to a contemporary author, and we never spent enough time with any one poet to really learn the depth of their writing. As far as I can recall, now more than a decade removed from that classroom, we never read a single poem from a non-white author. Emily Dickinson is the only woman poet I remember reading.
Hence, the genesis of July’s prompt: Read a collection of poems, short stories, or essays. This collection can be by a single author or multiple, as long as they are primarily authors of color.
Reading collections can help us suss out a single topic, idea, or voice. You might pick up a collection of short stories like Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild and Other Stories and explore the outer limits of humanity, or crack open a collection of essays on science such as Not Exactly Rocket Science by Ed Yong. You might read a collection from multiple authors, such as A Measure of Belonging: Writers of Color on the New American South edited by Cinelle Barnes or even a comic anthology like ELEMENTS: Fire: A Comic Anthology by Creators of Color! edited by Taneka Stotts. These edited collections can be a great way to get introduced to new authors whose work you will love.
My goal is to read the work of a single poet. I want to hear their voice and experience the gift they have given in their writing. I’m more interested in contemporary poets, but if you have a classic poet, short story author, or essayist you’d like to read then absolutely go for it! You can share what you’re reading in the comments below so we can all grow our lists.
While I was searching for poems to read I kept in mind resources like Poets.org. They bring on a new guest editor each month to curate their “poem a day” mailing list. I’ve been introduced to so many wonderful poets through the poem a day list.
I was torn over what to read. Did I want to read something like Lineage of Rain by Janel Pineda about Salvadoran immigration? Or focus on activism with something like Crossfire by Staceyann Chin? Or even a book about finding identity like Bloodstone Cowboy by Kara Jackson, or Doppelgangbanger by Cortney Lamar Charleston? There are also poetry collections deeply rooted in place and space, some of which are coming out of the midwest where I life. Collections like Eve L. Ewing’s 1919 explore the deep significance of race in the American midwest. Ewing explores the Chicago Race Riots through an Afrofuturist lens. There are also many beautiful collections from groups like The BreakBeat Poets at Haymarket Books collecting the works of black women, Latinx, and Muslim poets.
How could I possibly choose? To be honest, I want to read them all! But, I have to start somewhere, so why not with what’s already on my shelf? Smoking Lovely by Willie Perdomo recently came into my life as a gift from a friend. Described as “an exploration of poetry and the neoliberal city at the intersection of community and commodity,” this is a book that’s right up my alley!
What will you be reading for the challenge? Any collections you wish you had the time for?
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