Black & White & Read – Poetry Recommendations for Black History Month

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I was thinking about February, the month of love, chocolate, and honouring the history, contributions, and future of Black folks in our country, and I figured it would be a great time to feature poetry by Black writers.

(My thought process was Valentine’s Day > Love > Poetry. Hence the somewhat pun-y title, because I couldn’t resist.)

I never used to be big on reading poetry—sometimes poems (especially those assigned in school) felt a bit too esoteric or plain baffling for my taste, especially when coupled with assignments to demonstrate what the poems might be saying. But the more I read, the more I slowly fell in love with it, and even began trying my hand at writing my own poetry, some of which I’m quite proud of.

Who knows, one day I might publish a poetry collection and join the ranks of these vaunted writers. In the meantime though, I can recommend a few reads. The following is a small collection of great poetry by Black authors that you can find in our catalogue, featuring excerpts of their poems when available. I find there’s no greater hook for a reader of poetry than the content, which often resonates better than any blurb or synopsis could.

Book cover of Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman

Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman

Found in our catalogue by searching for its original title, Hill We Climb and Other Poems, inaugural poet Amanda Gorman captures a shipwrecked moment in time and transforms it into a lyric of hope and healing. In Call Us What We Carry, Gorman explores history, language, identity, and erasure through an imaginative and intimate collage.

❝At times even blessings will bleed us.

There are some who lost their lives

& those who were lost from ours,

Who we might now reenter,

All our someones summoned softly.

The closest we get to time travel

Is our fears softening,

Our hurts unclenching…❞

—from “Back to the Past”

Book cover of Woke: A Young Poet's Call to Justice by Mahogany L. Browne, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Olivia Gatwood

Woke: a Young Poet’s Call to Justice by Mahogany L. Browne, Elizabeth Acevedo, Olivia Gatwood

Historically, poets have been on the forefront of social movements. Woke is a collection of poems by women that reflects the joy and passion in the fight for social justice, tackling topics from discrimination to empathy, and acceptance to speaking out.

❝…this is the closest I’ve ever been to becoming
a woman with a number for a name
it’s easier than one might think
to lose yourself so quickly in search of country…❞

—from “Nation Induced Disorder”

Book cover of Salt by Nayyirah Waheed

Salt by Nayyirah Waheed

This collection of poetry explores the realities of multiple identities, language, diasporic life and pain, the self, community, healing, celebration, and love.

the ocean
can calm itself,
so can you.
are both
salt water
mixed with

Book cover of And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

These poems are powerful, distinctive, and fresh—and, as always, full of the lifting rhythms of love and remembering. And Still I Rise is written from the heart, a celebration of life as only Maya Angelou has discovered it.

❝Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

—from “Phenomenal Woman”

Book cover of Lullaby for a Black Mother by Langston Hughes

Lullaby (for a Black Mother) by Langston Hughes

With a few simple words as smooth as a song, the poet Langston Hughes celebrates the love between an African American mother and her baby. The award-winning illustrator Sean Qualls’s painted and collaged artwork captures universally powerful maternal moments with tenderness and whimsy. In the end, readers will find a rare photo of baby Hughes and his mother, a biographical note, further reading, and the complete lullaby. Like little loved-ones, this beautiful book is a treasure.

❝My little dark baby,
My little earth-thing,
My little love-one,
What shall I sing
For your lullaby?

A necklace of stars
Winding the night.

My little black baby,
My dark body’s baby,
What shall I sing
For your lullaby?

Book cover of The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry edited by Valerie Mason-John and Kevan Cameron

The Great Black North: Contemporary African Canadian Poetry edited by Valerie Mason-John and Kevan Cameron

The Great Black North is a contemporary remix of the story of Black Canada. Told through the intertwining tapestry of poetic forms found on the page and stage, The Great Black North presents some missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that help fit together a poetic picture of the Black Canadian experience.

Featuring 90 poets, among them George Elliott Clarke, Ian Keteku, Lillian Allen, Afua Cooper, and Prufrock Shadowrunner.

❝Poets turning routine into rituals / resounding sound symbols of language / into language play / un-ravelling the perfect embroidered geometry of the uni-lateral real / with its intricate layers of who, when, where and how to feel.❞ — Lillian Allen

Cover of Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement.

❝I am born not long from the time
or far from the place
my great, great grandparents
worked the deep rich land
dawn till dusk
drank cool water from scooped out gourds
looked up and followed
the sky’s mirrored constellation
to freedom.❞

There are, of course, many more works by many more Black poets, but I thought I’d share a little sampler of suggestions. Feel free to share your favourite poems and poets; we always look forward to adding more to our to-read lists!

About Sumayyah

Sumayyah is an Information Assistant at the Vaughan Public Libraries. She's also a bookworm and author, constantly dreaming up a multitude of different stories and wrestling with finishing them.  |  Meet the team