Black Poetry Writing Month: Write A Poem That Ignites

When I was in school, poetry was my least favorite genre of literature. I hated the flowery descriptions of love, I couldn’t understand the metaphoric language or the Shakespearian syntax, and when it came to rhyme scheme and meter, my attempts at mastering them always sounded elementary. My struggles had a lot to do with my inability to connect with any of the poems I studied in school. Early British Lit? Nah, I’ll pass. John Keats who? No, I do not want to write another Petrarchan sonnet.

However, in college, I took a course called Black Poetry on Page and on the Stage as part of my Gen Ed requirements, and it ignited a passion for poetry I never thought I’d have. Phillis Wheatley’s “On Being Brought From Africa to America,” one of the first poems I read in the class, would quickly become one of my favorites. It was easy to understand, it was cultured but not overly descriptive, and more importantly, it was written by a black female slave.

On Being Brought From Africa to America

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic dye.”
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

—Phillis Wheatley, from Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773)

I believe that when it comes to poetry, for the student to really feel motivated to learn, there has to be something in the poem that the student can identity with, especially with minority students. Yes, Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, Henry Thoreau, etc. were legends, but what’s going to make a young black boy or a young black girl want to read them?

With Phillis Wheatley, I saw myself. Here was this young African slave girl—who no one from the elite literary circles even thought could understand sophisticated classical literature, more less write it—silencing every stereotype of the African slave and at the same time advocating for me, a young black girl nearly 300 years in the future.

So it came as no surprise that when looking through old scrapbooks, I discovered that college was not the first time I’d read Phillis Wheatley’s infamous poem.

5th grade Nortina presenting her project on Phillis Wheatley

Yes, Phillis Wheatley has been a part of me for a long time.

So, to kick off Black Poetry Writing Month, I’d like to challenge you to write a poem that will inspire the young black student. Write a poem he/she can identify with, one that will motivate him/her to be something great, one that will ignite a fire within him/her that burns brightly for the love of poetry.

Don’t forget to pingback to this post or use the hashtag #BlaPoWriMo so we can find you on Twitter!


15 thoughts on “Black Poetry Writing Month: Write A Poem That Ignites

  1. This is new, didn´t know that in colleges they taught black poetry Beautiful poem I should add.
    Although I don´t know if this is a poem to inspire a black person or any other race for that matter, it´s quite tragic really.
    They could write a poem about Obama, or I can name other black people that “made” it.

    In the American revolution thousands of black soldiers faught for the indepence of the colonies, didn´t turn out quite well for them, but they where crucial to créate America, Or write about Oprah Winfield, or one of the best actors Will Smith. Wich in an interview I saw in 60 minutes he himself said something to this effect ” talent will get you so far, hard work is what you need. When other people are sleeping I´m working, when others are at lunch I´m working.”
    Or even write a poem about the Republican candidate Ben Carson, a guy out of the housing projects that turns out to be a neurologist being the first person to take apart two brains….go figure that one out. I like that guy, he should be your next president. One thing is to know the history, like the only black U.S Mashall Bass Reeves in the late 1800 hundreds (check that guy out, quite a charácter) and another thing is to relieve the tragic history now that we are in 2016.

    It would be the same if here in Spain we still relieve the civil war, wich my grandparents faught in in the 1930´s, or relieve the fascist dictator up until 1975. People should move on from those things, if not you´ll be constantly feeding that resentment.

    So a poem for a black kid, for me that I have come from a place with not much money, it would be called ” life is not fair,there are idiots and bigots still out there, but for the most part if you get your act together and work hard and Smart you will achieve something in your life, maybe not be a millionaire but live a comfortable life” Long title that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those are all great ideas. I’ve actually heard of Bass Reeves. Supposedly, he was the inspiration behind the Lone Ranger character.
      My thought behind the prompt was that you write a poem that speaks to a black kid. A lot of times with literature, if a child can’t connect or identify with the body of work, its meaning goes right over his head. Phillis Wheatley’s poem spoke to me because it advocated for the advancement of black people, basically saying, “we are human too, capable of learning and understanding sophisticated subjects.”
      I think your poem idea was right along the lines of what I was saying. Yes, the title is a bit long, but hey, make it work! 😀


      1. That´s right, the western historians do think for the most part that the lone rangere was based on good old Bass.
        I have to say this, if the poem spoke to you saying what you perceived it, for me is quite natural. I just don´t like when they put people in groups. You got the feminist, the gays (my uncle was gay died of aids I was with him until the end and he was truly the most giving human I´ve met), you got a sector of the population that is black and feel that they are beaten down by the system wich is White, point being I look at the individiauls, the character of each individual and could care less what is the color of their skin sex preference ( unless is not bestiality that would creep me out). What I give value is to individual beings, and that is what we are, individuals.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I don’t think we disagree here. Maybe we just have different ways of saying the same thing? I agree that labels aren’t important and that we should look at the individual first. However, if someone’s sexual preference, ethnic background, social stances, etc. plays a large role in who they are and how they identify themselves as a person, we should discredit that either. Give it 50/50 🙂


  2. Although much more modern, Gwendolyn Brooks would be high on my list. She said a great deal with very few words.
    I’d like to add that I didn’t know Gwendolyn Brooks was black, or that she had such a body of work! until I was in college…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There were so many poets I never even heard of before college. Gwendolyn Brooks was one of them. She’s another poet whose words I can connect with on so many levels, and for that, she’s high on my list too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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