I’ve always been in awe and a bit intimidated by poetry. Bards have the gift for defining the abstract and manipulating the literal into newfangled perspectives. They illuminate the political with their verses and stanzas and wordplay. Poetry can be lyrical, yet still. Profound and pretty. Poetry can expose the ugly while dazzling. Poetry is symmetrical and incongruous at the same time. Poetry is the definitive expression of an era.
I’ve loved poetry ever since I was a young girl who discovered Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni. I take every chance to engage in conversations about the many splendid forms of literature. While I don’t need a reason to discuss books or reading, April is National Poetry Month.
Read some poetry this month – and year round.
Here are my recommendations of poets, poetry books, poems and miscellaneous verse that inspire me. These lists are purely subjective and cater to my fancy.
Five works to explore by the late great Gil Scott-Heron, who rapped before rap was:
- A New Black Poet – Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, the 1970 album on Flying Dutchman Records, features one of his best-known pieces, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”
- Gil Scott-Heron: Black Wax Plus ‘Is That Jazz?’ is a 1982 docu-concert by filmmaker Robert Mugge that features Scott-Heron and his Midnight Band performing at the now-defunct Wax Museum in Washington, D.C. It’s part creepy because wax museums weird me out but all brilliant as Scott-Heron juxtaposes wax figures with his unerring narrative about the perils of urban life and offers laser-sharp insight into the politics of black life in America.
- Scott-Heron’s novels, The Vulture and the Nigger Factory, published in 1970 and 1972 respectively, can be found packaged together.
- I’m New Here (2010) is Gil Scott-Heron’s 13th and final studio album. Recorded on XL Recording, Scott-Heron’s swan song, a confessional of sorts with introspective lyrics done in the sonic tradition of black American music (blues, folk, spoken word) was his first release of original material in 16 years. I’m New Here came on the heels of a period of personal strife. His voice had changed considerably — raspier and grittier — yet his songs still packed the same sociopolitical, one-two punch.
- “No Knock,” from the 1972 album Free Will, is a reference to police not being required to knock before entering a home.
Five of my favorite poetry books (of the moment):
- Breaking Poems by Suheir Hammad
- Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith
- , said the shotgun to the head by Saul Williams
- The Collected Poems by Langston Hughes
- Martín & Meditations on the South Valley by Jimmy Santiago Baca
Five poets I want you to Google:
Five poets I love:
- Audre Lorde
- Dorothy Parker
- Amiri Baraka
- Kalamu ya Salaam
My three favorite things about poetry at the moment:
- I recently discovered that the poem, “Lyric: I Am Looking At Music,” as performed by Nia Long in one of my favorite 90’s movies of all-time, Love Jones is by Louisiana poet Pinkie Gordon Lane.
- An heptastich is a poem consisting of seven lines or verses.
- This quote by Gloria Anzaldúa, “A woman-of-color who writes poetry or paints or dances or makes movies knows there is no escape from race or gender when she is writing or painting. She can’t take off her color and sex and leave them at the door or her study or studio. Nor can she leave behind her history. Art is about identity, among other things, and her creativity is political.”
jewel bush, a New Orleans native, is a writer whose work has appeared in The (Houma) Courier, The Washington Post, The Times-Picayune, New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles Magazine, and El Tiempo, a bilingual Spanish newspaper. In 2010, she founded MelaNated Writers Collective, a multi-genre group for writers of color in New Orleans dedicated to cultivating the literary, artistic and professional growth of emerging writers. She is currently communications coordinator for Service Employees International Union Local 21LA. Her three favorite books are Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Catcher in the Rye, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Photo by Thomas Sayers Ellis.