February is finally here! Did anyone else think January was way too long?
…And too cold; it was definitely too cold!
If February is your month to reset your New Year’s goals (particularly your writing goals), here’s a suggestion for you…
Why not join a new writing challenge?
That’s right. Black Poetry Writing Month (BlaPoWriMo) has returned for a third year, and this time I hope to see lots more participation. 😉
For the uninitiated, BlaPoWriMo is a month-long writing challenge that combines the ambition of National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) with the history, education, and self-reflection of Black History Month.
Over these three years, I’ve explored various themes for the challenge. During its inaugural run in 2016, I gave you daily prompts based on poems from some of my favorite black poets, and last year, we spent a fortnight writing black love poems.
This year, I want to take you on a journey through the eras of black poetry/literature and art.
We’ll look specifically at the eras of slavery, the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, and contemporary/today…
…Does black literature (as we know it) still exist today? Some will make the argument that it does not…
What are some of the reoccurring themes in these particular eras? Do poems from certain eras stand out more than others? Can you name the poets best known for their works written during a particular era?
Let’s kick off our first week of poems by exploring one of the most difficult and painful era’s of our country’s history: Slavery.
Not America’s brightest moment, when human beings were put in chains and treated (or should I say mistreated) as property all because their skin complexion was a few shades darker. But despite the hardships, the abuse, the oppression, many bright stars shined through.
I talk a lot about Phillis Wheatley, but did you know she wasn’t the first African American to publish a poem? While she does hold the titled of first African American to publish a book of poetry (Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1773), the trophy for first African American slave to publish a poem belongs to Jupiter Hammon. Other poets of this era include George Moses Horton, also a slave, James Monroe Whitfield, Benjamin Banneker, and Frances Harper, just to name a few.
Black poetry written during this period typically opposed slavery. The theme of freedom/longing for freedom ran deep within the lines. Some poems were often spiritual/religious in nature while others revealed a strong influence by the classics, signifying the intelligence and genius of blacks, which was pretty unbelievable to the whites of that time. In fact, Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral opens with several authentication letters signed by white men to confirm that she, a black enslaved woman, truly wrote the poems!
Ever since I was a child, Phillis Wheatley has always been an inspiration when it comes to poetry writing. And when I learned that I had a little Senegal and Gambia in my DNA, it basically solidified in my mind that I am related to her in some way or another. (A distant auntie, perhaps?)
To get you started with this week’s slavery-themed poems, I’m being a bit biased here and sharing with you a poem of Wheatley’s that I’ve posted in the past. It’s truly my favorite, and so eloquently written. Of course, if you need further inspiration, feel free to look up the other poets mentioned in this post.
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 die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.
So, are you ready for BlaPoWriMo?
I truly hope you will join me for another month of writing black poetry. You don’t have to be black to participate. This is not a space for discrimination but education. As long as you write a poem every day this month and your poem aligns with the theme for the week or focuses on blackness/race in general there’s no reason not to join!
Be sure to add your links to the prompt posts for the week (ex. link your “slavery” poems to this post) so others can read your poem. You can also tag your posts BlaPoWriMo so we can find you in the WordPress Reader.
By the way, I’m on Twitter! I previously created a separate account for BlaPoWriMo, but that became too much of a hassle, so follow me @Nortina_Mariela and tweet the hashtag #BlaPoWriMo. I’ll be retweeting your tweets all month long!
Will you join the challenge this month? I’m excited to see the poems you create!
Happy Black Poetry Writing Month!