Over last several weeks, as protests against police violence have ignited across the country, many have turned to art—poetry, in particular—as a source of comfort and inspiration.
Whether it takes the form of a Maya Angelou quote on your Instagram feed or a powerful spoken word poem—such as the one performed by Playon Patrick before former president Barack Obama’s address in early June—poetry can serve as a call to action and a way of speaking one’s truth.
And in a time when the news can be a source of pain and violence, poetry can be a source of healing and joy.
Poetry has always been integral to movements for social change. Self-proclaimed “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet ” Audre Lorde argued, in 1985, that “Poetry Is Not a Luxury”:
“It is a vital necessity for our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams towards survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”
Poetry isn’t just a way of speaking—it’s a way of thinking about the future, and art is a form of resistance for people who are often shut out of dominant media narratives.
Below are some poems that deal with relevant themes during this revolutionary moment: healing, resistance and possibility.
During incredible turmoil (to say the least), we’re thinking about healing a lot: What it means to heal, and what it means to cultivate a space where healing is possible when we’re immersed in a world (and a 24-hour news cycle) that is constantly attacking our sense of humanity.
by Danez Smith (@danez_smif)
let ruin end here
let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter
let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs
let this be the healing
& if not let it be
by Aracelis Girmay (@aracelisxgirmay)
You are who I love
weeping or touching the faces of the weeping
You, Violeta Parra, grateful for the alphabet, for sound, singing toward us in the dream
You carrying your brother home
You noticing the butterflies
Sharing your water, sharing your potatoes and greens
You who did and did not survive
You who cleaned the kitchens
You who built the railroad tracks and roads
You who replanted the trees, listening to the work of squirrels and birds, you are who I love
You whose blood was taken, whose hands and lives were taken, with or without your saying
Yes, I mean to give. You are who I love.
Poetry isn’t just a way of documenting events and feelings—it’s a medium used to connect, express and encourage radical resistance. Whether they call on us to remember a particular person, place or moment, these poets use their voices to remind us that strength is integral to survival and is something to be celebrated. They tell us that if you dare to scream about justice, someone will be there to raise their voices alongside you.
by Kenneth Carroll III
we all mean the world to somebody
and that is a blessing that is a comfort that is a long
hug before a bus ride to the station that is a lecture
that is pursed lips that is:
Don’t wear that hood like that
Don’t talk like that
Don’t walk like that
that is until we turn the corner and
flip the switch with our kicks
if we die tonight
it will not have been with our hands beneath our asses
we will not go quietly
we will go as we came
red faced and howling
find us wading in the brick and mortar
mixing in with the murals
find us caught in the concrete
find us touching lips with the sky
find us home in our city
reaching down into its crackling hearth
by June Jordan
I will no longer lightly walk behind
a one of you who fear me:
I plan to give you reasons for your jumpy fits
and facial tics
I will not walk politely on the pavements anymore
and this is dedicated in particular
to those who hear my footsteps
or the insubstantial rattling of my grocery
then turn around
and hurry on
away from this impressive terror I must be:
I plan to blossom bloody on an afternoon
surrounded by my comrades singing
terrible revenge in merciless
I have watched a blind man studying his face.
I have set the table in the evening and sat down
to eat the news.
I have gone to sleep.
There is no one to forgive me.
The dead do not give a damn.
I live like a lover
who drops her dime into the phone
just as the subway shakes into the station
wasting her message
canceling the question of her call:
fulminating or forgetful but late
and always after the fact that could save or
I must become the action of my fate.
It can be hard to focus on changing the horizon in a moment where the present is so fraught. It’s an obstacle to think about what will be two days from now, let alone two years. But we have to think about it—the core of movement-building, and making lasting change, is envisioning a better world. One that we can re-shape can make into a reality.
Lorde wrote, “[Poetry] lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.” She sees poetry as a call to action, as a dream where another future: a future where freedom is not a dream, but a tangible reality. These poems create this future, a world that is kinder and less violent.
by Ada Limón (@adalimon)
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all
by Amir Rabiyah
We survive, over again.
Adapt. Even after being
carried in the beaks of birds,
far from our roots, we grow.
And when least expected, when histories
not told by us, for us, claims we are defeated,
we gather our tears as dew. We release our anguish,
intoxicated by our own sexed pollen.
displaying the luscious folds of our petals.
Looking for more poetry? Check out Furious Flower Black Poets database or Split This Rock’s poetry database. If you’re looking to support writers by buying a book, consider ordering from your local Black-owned bookstore.