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Sweatpants & Culture l Celebrating Black Poetry Day with Eight Poets You Should Know

By Jerusha Gray

In celebration of Black Poetry Day, here is a roundup of poets you should be listening to if you aren’t already.

First up is Jillian Christmas, whose smooth voice and wide open view of the world exposes the good, bad, ugly, and painfully beautiful things we ought to see, sometimes wish we hadn’t, and–depending on who you are–often haven’t yet and may never see.  Jillian is a badass neighbor to the north, a Canadian who has won Grand Poetry-Slam championships (2011 and 2012)  and is the founder of Toronto’s acclaimed Peace Pipe Poetry Sessions on Bloor (among so many other amazing accomplishments…seriously, we could go on about her for days.) 

Next we’ve got Javon Johnson.  His words and delivery are equally matched in beauty by…well…him.  And his ability to speak so eloquently should come as no surprise, as he is an assistant professor in communication studies at SF State.  If you are in the mood to have your breath taken away, hit up YouTube to watch him perform Black and Happy. 

Anthony McPherson has this important message, among others.  You have to elect yourself daily. I don’t know about you but that line sticks to my bones. Especially these days.  Anthony McPherson’s talent has earned him over 1 million views of his work online, a feature on BET’s Black History Month Special, and in 2015 he ranked 13th in the Individual World Poetry Slam Championship  Not too shabby!

The winner of the 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam Championship was Emi Mahmoud, a Sudanese-American woman who first encountered spoken word poetry as an undergrad at Yale. The poem I’m going to share with you today is the poem she won the 2015 championship with, a poem she wrote in honor of her mother…her mother who, sadly could not be in attendance because she was back in Sudan attending her own mother’s funeral.  There are two other poems I wanted to share, so if you like her stuff, check out The Colors we Ascribe and one titled “2017 Women of the World Poetry Slam- Emi Mahmoud” that poem is called Head over Heels.  

Aja Monet is young, hip, tattooed and has a voice that begs to be listened to. In 2007, at the tender age of 19 she became the youngest person to become the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe Grand Slam Champion, and like a fine wine, ever since her poetry has only matured. For your enjoyment, here is her poem What I’ve Learned.

Lee Mokobe is a South African man who co-founded Vocal Revolutionaries, an organization that empowers youth to find their voices through poetry and art. The part of this poem that just guts me is this: “And now, oncoming traffic is embracing more transgender children than parents. I wonder how long it will be before the trans suicide notes start to feel redundant–that our bodies become lessons about sin way before we learn how to love them.” 

Danez Smith’s poetry is full of emotion and vibrant imagery.  They are the winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award,  the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, and the Button Poetry Prize.  They are a founding member of the Dark Noise Collective, and Danez is also (among other fellowships they’ve won), a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow. Enjoy this performance of Dinosaurs in the Hood, and then steel yourself and look for Dear White America.  

To wrap up our list today, we’d like to introduce you (if you haven’t already digitally met her) to T. Miller.  She is a poet, activist, author, film producer, and a three time Women of the World Poetry Slam top 5 finalist. She’s even published a book called “Coming out of Nowhere”, a social networking memoir about homosexuality and cyberbullying that is being studied in universities.  Here is T. Miller performing Frank Ocean.

Jerusha Gray

Jerusha Gray is insatiably curious. This curiosity, coupled with a brain that never shuts up, drives her to paint and draw, read prodigiously, make music, write, and sing in grocery stores.

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