Beyoncé’s latest album, Lemonade, introduced the masses to Warsan Shire, and that was a wonderful thing. I think that much of the time we focus on the classic black poets such as Maya Angelou or Nikki Giovanni, who are both very important, but Shire’s recent shine made me think of what other amazing modern poets are out there. So I did a bit of research and reading, and compiled a list of seven more black women poets for you all to check out. This is in no way a complete list, but I selected these specific poets after reading their work and wanting more, so I purchased their poetry collections (if available) and have been living in a whirlwind of words for the past few weeks.
Yrsa Daley-Ward, a writer of Jamaican and Nigerian heritage, was raised in the north of England by her grandparents. Her first collection of prose and poetry, “bone,” tackles a myriad of themes such as mental health, love, family, and self awareness. I especially enjoyed her short stories that were included — beautifully written, intriguing, and thought-provoking. Notable Poem (there are so many, though): what love isn’t
Nayyirah Waheed is a US-based writer who uses poetry as a form of self-expression, and it’s obvious that it’s working. Her latest collection, “nejma,” quickly earned a place as one of my favorite books. When I was reading it (it’s 178 pages and I read it in less than two days), I constantly felt chills from the power in her words and strong imagery — it was that good. The way she uses punctuation is quite interesting, but it adds something to the poems that I can’t really tell you about, you’ll have to experience it for yourself. Notable Poem (again, so many): the box circle
Alexandra Elle is one of my favorite contemporary poets/writers. Her work is unapologetically honest and real, and her words are always full of empowerment and encouragement, not only towards black women, but life in general. I went to one of her readings awhile back, and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room. I also love that she is always encouraging others to write and tell their own stories — her most recent work, “Love In My Language,” includes blank pages at the end for you to use, and she’s also released a meditation journal. Notable Poems: Sustain and The Love of Self
Ladan Osman, who is Somalian-American, is known for writing about her heritage. In February 2014, Osman won the annual Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets for her collection “The Kitchen Dweller’s Testimony.” In this collection of poems, she references family, religion, gender, and more complex and imaginary scenarios that women often encounter. Some of her diction is almost haunting, especially when she’s talking about things like mutilating a doll, as in “Amber Doll.” Notable Poem: Apparition: Two
Aja Monet is from Brooklyn, New York, and while I was reading her poetry, I certainly thought that quality was apparent. Many of her words and scenarios sounded a bit more city/urban-based than some of the other poems I read, and it was interesting to see this contrast. I read her first collection, “The Black Unicorn Sings” — I found her poems gritty and smooth at the same time, if that makes sense. Notable Poem: Is that all you got (seriously, I read this poem numerous times in a row, then sent it to a couple of other folks to read. You can watch her perform it live here.)
Morgan Parker resides in Brooklyn, and she’s another poet where I thought this vividly came through in her writing. Her style also seemed a bit quirkier than the other ladies I was reading; I found myself smiling at her wit and references to pop culture in pieces like “Real Housewife Defends Herself In Front Of A Live Studio Audience.” But there is still a quiet critique in several of her poems as they relate to race and self-reflection. Her latest work, “Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night,” is definitely one to explore and her second collection, “There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé,” will be out in February 2017. Notable Poem: Miss Black America (it’s a series of poems actually)
Alysia Harris is Cali-born, Virginia-raised (shoutout to the DMV!), and fills her poems with passion in various forms. When I first heard her performance of “That Girl” on Russell Simmons’ Brave New Voices, I thought, “Well damn,” and that’s pretty much how I feel about all of her poems. There’s a sense of confidence in her words that is simply amazing. Her chapbook, “How Much We Must Have Looked Like Stars to Stars,” won the 2015 New Women’s Voices Chapbook Contest and is going to be available this July. In the meantime, you can find her on Genius. Notable Poem: This Woman
All of these women exhibit extraordinary talent and absolute black girl magic, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Still, I’m glad to have found them and can’t wait to read more of their works and words.
Who are your favorite contemporary black women poets?