I’m back from the Furious Flower where I had the honor of sitting in on a poetry slam as part of the Mirrors and Windows Conference. It was a collegiate summit, so the attendees were all college undergrads and grads – MFA’ers and prospects, alongside other writers who haven’t yet identified as poets. They came from Howard University, JMU, Lincoln, Salisbury, Blue Ridge Community – all hungry for time with other young artists who have discovered the power and healing that is found inside the hard shell of poetry.
The poetry slam was our culminating gathering, and it was, for me, one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had as an author. These young scholars brought it all, and as I watched each one take a turn at the mic, I found myself hanging on words that named their experience, their fears, their strengths, their reality. Whether the poem was about turning to Payless sneakers, life with a brother suffering from mental illness or about shaming a girl who has been raped, they rang true.
I’ll tell you straight: It has been a season of despair for me as we inch toward November. The ugly, racist and bullying pitch of our presidential election has left me disgusted about what’s ahead unless we collectively step forward to change the path.
But Saturday night and again at our tearful closing session, I found respite in the company of these brilliant young poets and the professors and mentors who had journeyed there with them. Their spoken performances reminded me again of the power of poetry to help us not only make sense of what we live, but also to give us a way to form a response. In their determined faces and blinding talent I saw that they already know the most important thing about art and activism: Nothing stops a poet from the truth.
I’ll end by sharing, with her permission, a poem by Howard University student Angel Dye. It was one of my favorites of the night…
Untitled, by Angel Dye
Black is the new black
The old black
Always black to black
and back to black
It’s back to that
Blacker the black the sweeter the black
Not the deeper the lack or the cheaper the crack
Not the triller the trap but the iller the rap
Not the breaking of backs or the deafening of gats
Not bruises and slaps or sippin on yac
We be so black we much more than just that
We colorfully rainbow black
“MADE WITH MELANIN” and “HANDLE WITH CARE” inscribed in our tats
What a time to be black
History, mystery, present, future, past
We be that, that brown, down, cool, classic black
When the world ends we’ll still be around after that
True black, bold black, best black, so black
Don’t try black
Suntan, cornrows, or artificial dye black
Don’t lie on black, deny black, then when it’s convenient rely on black
You gotta be born black, not just adorned in black
Beneath phenotype or “you talk white” you be black because it’s on the inside
You can’t look at black and decide that only a wide nose and naps constitute black
There’s so much more to it than that
It’s bone deep and erected in our backs
So stop trying to show you black and get to know black
Like really sow into black, grow more spiritual and soulful black
Be noble black and don’t let no one control yo black
You say you’ve met God and she’s black
Well did she tell you that every color mixed together becomes black?
You should be proud and own that: no hue gets its name without paying homage to black, and within you…
you got all of that.
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