#BlackPoetsSpeakOut

A protest, online and in verse.

By Kati Krause


That’s how all the videos begin. There’s over 200 of them on Youtube, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Vimeo, all protesting the same thing: the unpunished deaths of unarmed black men—of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and of so many others.

Two hundred videos is not what poet Mahogany Browne expected when she posted the first video, A Poem About Police Violence by June Jordan, just over a week ago.

“Tell me something
what you think would happen if
everytime they kill a black boy
then we kill a cop
everytime they kill a black man
then we kill a cop”

The video was the result of a discussion between Browne and the poets Amanda Johnston, Jonterri Gadson, and Jericho Brown on the Cave Canem Foundation Facebook page. Cave Canem is a prestigious organization for black poets, and in the wake of the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, they were looking for ways to respond with individual action. Gadson suggested videos, and many decided to recite poems from the height of the civil rights and Black Arts Movement in order to show that 30 years later, the conversation is still the same.

It wasn’t long before other poets with no connection to Cave Canem started posting their own videos, first of BAM poems, then of contemporaries, and their own work. Poets from outside the U.S. soon joined. Within three days, there were 100 videos. (And yet there has been nearly no mainstream media coverage.)

“The surprise was the number,” says Browne. “I thought people would respond with likes and comments, and ask permission to participate. But people gave themselves permission to mourn through these poems. It became celebratory, this outcry for justice. It took on a life of its own. It made my heart sore.”

“The saddest triptych
is in our blood.
Once I said, Our troubles
are passed down.
I would rather
dance hoodwinked
with the devil than be
alone,”

reads Morgan Parker in her poem, The History of Black People. “The movement was and continues to be healing solace from recent and historical political darkness,” she tells me. “I look forward to watching it continue to bloom and mushroom, for more words and faces to be added to the cipher, and for it to inspire action and community.”

“Show me
A man who tells his children
The police will protect them,
And I’ll show you the son of a man
Who taught his children where
To dig. Not me. Couldn’t be. Not
On my knees. No citizen begs
To find anything other than forgiveness.”

Community readings will be held on December 6 at ReCreative Spaces in Washington, D.C.; December 11 at the Pratt Institute in New York City; and December 22 at Newcastle City Library in the United Kingdom. Readings in Boston and South Africa are also planned.

Read more of Matter’s coverage of #Ferguson:

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