BlaPoWriMo: 14 Days of “Black” Love Poetry

Return to me a soft reply
On which I must with joy rely
Give me thy hand and then thy heart
Entirely mingled not to part
Relume the tapor near expired
Seeking a friend so long desired—

From “Acrostics” by George Moses Horton, 1844

George Moses Horton, born a slave in Northampton County, North Carolina around 1797, was the first African American to publish a book of poetry in the South. He gained fame in the Chapel Hill area for selling personalized love poems to students for 25 to 75 cents apiece.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Today, and truly the entire month of February, is all about matters of the heart. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, a parent or a pet owner (which is essentially the same thing), religious or spiritual, there’s no better feeling than to be loved by someone.

In a world so consumed by hatred and division, what we need more than anything right now is L-O-V-E.

So it’s only fitting that Black Poetry Writing Month 2017 be all about the L word. If you’ve never heard of Black Poetry Writing Month, as the name suggests, it is a month-long poetry writing challenge that focuses on subjects of race and the black experience in America and/or the African diaspora (past or present). I started this project a year ago and was so overjoyed by the enthusiasm and the participation of my fellow bloggers that I’ve decided to bring it back for another year, and hopefully for years to come.

This year, we’re going to do BlaPoWriMo a little differently. For the second half of February, I challenge you to pen a love poem a day—a black love poem, specifically. Your love poems can be romantic, familial, platonic, or religious. They can be about the love of oneself or of one’s heritage. The love or desire for freedom, literal or figurative. The love of blackness, whether that be skin tone, body image, or culture. The possibilities are as endless as love itself.

So if you participated in Black Poetry Writing Month last year, even if you only read the poems, or if this is your first time hearing about BlaPoWriMo, whatever the reason that brought you here today, I invite you to join the challenge. Write a “black” love poem each day for the next fortnight. Post it on your blog and tag it BlaPoWriMo. Link your poems back to this post in the comments section, or share on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #BlaPoWriMo. You don’t have to be black to join the challenge. Black Poetry Writing Month, like Black History Month, is a learning experience for everyone.

So learn with us!

Love with us!

Yes, even write with us!

Happy Black Poetry Writing Month!

Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem for the Weary Slave

The Slave’s Complaint

Am I sadly cast aside,
On misfortune’s rugged tide?
Will the world my pains deride
Forever?

Must I dwell in Slavery’s night,
And all pleasure take its flight,
Far beyond my feeble sight,
Forever?

Worst of all, must hope grow dim,
And withhold her cheering beam?
Rather let me sleep and dream
Forever!

Something still my heart surveys,
Groping through this dreary maze;
Is it Hope?—they burn and blaze
Forever!

Leave me not a wretch confined,
Altogether lame and blind—
Unto gross despair consigned,
Forever!

Heaven! in whom can I confide?
Canst thou not for all provide?
Condescend to be my guide
Forever:

And when this transient life shall end,
Oh, may some kind, eternal friend
Bid me from servitude ascend,
Forever!

—George Moses Horton

 

Slavery was the darkest chapter in our country’s history. Human beings were viewed as property, interchangeable with livestock. They were kidnapped from their homeland, packed in squalor like spoons aboard ships and transported to a foreign land, beaten into obedience, depraved of their language and culture, forced into hard labor, whipped, murdered, raped, and worst of all, the defenders of this deplorable system said these victims were happy.

90
from Disney’s Song of the South (1946)

The myth of the happy plantation servant was a form of propaganda spread by Southern slave owners to combat abolitionism. They argued that the slaves were content with there status, siting that they often sung while working in the fields. Unbeknownst to the masters, this songs were usually Negro spirituals, Christian-themed songs that described the hardships of slavery, lamenting the slaves’ suffering and crying out for freedom. Frederick Douglass, a fugitive slave who because the face of the abolition movement after he escaped from bondage, wrote about the Negro spirituals in his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass:

To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery. I can never get rid of that conception. Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery, and quicken my sympathies for my brethren in bonds.

Contrary to what many works portraying the Old Antebellum South may have you believe, the slaves were not strolling through the woods singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” to the animals.

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, channel the spirit of the weary plantation slave. Feel his pain, his sorrow, his desperation to be free from chains. Embrace the Christian-themed Negro spirituals and sing a hymn of hope and sadness that would break the hearts of all who hear.

—Nortina