Black Poetry Writing Month: Traveling through Time… Slavery

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!

February Is Black Poetry Writing Month!

We want a black poem. And a
Black World.
Let the world be a Black Poem
And Let All Black People Speak This Poem
Silently
or LOUD

From “Black Art” by Amiri Baraka

February is probably one of my favorite months on the calendar, and it’s not because it’s the most underappreciated month of the year due to its 28 days (29 in a leap year) or because it’s the month of love (quite frankly, I LOATHE Valentine’s Day), nor is it because it’s the month before my birthday (whoop, whoop)!

I love February because it’s Black History Month, and contrary to what people may say, Black History Month is a time for African Americans (and truly ALL Americans) to come together and remember how far we’ve come and how much further we still must go if we want to see real progress in the fight for racial equality.

During Black History Month, we learn about the brilliant Black artists, scientists, activists, philosophers, inventors, abolitionists, teachers, etc. who lead the fight to break the chains of chattel slavery and paved the way for all African Americans to be something greater— lawyers, doctors, CEOs, the President of the United States! It teaches young Black children in the hood and in the suburbs that no matter their circumstances or their background, oppression, discrimination, and prejudice will not hold them back from accomplishing their dreams.

Still, we rise! 

It would only make sense that a project like Black Poetry Writing Month would accompany Black History Month, as throughout history, poetry has played a major role in bringing the Black Experience to the forefront and in contributing to the advancement of the African American. Think of great poets like Phillis Wheatley, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, Maya Angelou, and so many others.

As an African American writer, I strive to be like the literary pioneers of the generations before me, which is why I’m so ecstatic to kick off a tradition that I hope will continue for years to come and one day be as popular as NaNoWriMo and NaPoWriMo.

Black Poetry Writing Month (BlaPoWriMo) is a challenge for writers to pen a poem a day during the month of February that focuses on race/Black Experience in America and/or the African diaspora (past or present). All are welcome to participate!

I’m excited to see the poems you create. I will also be sharing some of my own here on the blog. Use the tag BlaPoWriMo so I can find you in the WordPress reader, and if you’re on Twitter, use the hashtag #BlaPoWriMo to get a retweet from me! You can also follow me on Twitter (@Nortina_Mariela) to get the latest updates and to read the contributions of fellow poets and writers.

Thank you to everyone who decides to participate. Let’s aim to get #BlaPoWriMo trending all month long!

—Nortina