I loved poetry in high school. Not traditional poetry. Not the kind that follows structures carried down from 17th century England to Euro-centric American classrooms. Not the kind of poetry that feels dictated and uncreative. I liked the outlandish — the edgy kind of poetry. I liked Allen Ginsberg more than I will ever like Emily Dickinson. And I preferred Audre Lorde to Shakespeare.
I recently rediscovered my passion for the genre, and in doing so I also discovered several incredible Black women who are absolutely killing the poetry game.
Here are some of my favorite contemporary Black female poets that I promise you'll fall in love with, just like I did.
1. Nayyirah Waheed
If you have not heard about Nayyirah Waheed you absolutely must look her up. In the technological era in which we currently live, Waheed has made herself one of the most famous Instagram poets. Her poems are simplistic in structure but deeply moving in content. She has published two collections: salt. and Nejima.
happens to my son
living within my skin.
drinking my cells.
his soft psyche turning cruel.
does he not remember
is half woman.
2. Yrsa Daley-Ward
Yrsa Daley-Ward is another poet you can follow on Instagram. Her most recent work, bone, has left many dazzled and stunned its riveting and emotional lyricism. Waheed described Daley-Ward's work as “a symphony of breaking and mending. she lays her hands on the pulse of the thing. and gives wide air to the epic realities of women.”
If they ask you how you are
don't say stolen. Don't say forgotten, passed over,
ignored. Don't you dare say Orphan.
Don't say beaten by the system
oppressed and disturbed
and don't you dare say disappointed
don't you dare say damaged.
Smile with all of your teeth, even the rotting ones.
Even the rotting ones.
3. Warsan Shire
Warsan Shire has been awarded the inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize and the first Young Poet Laureate of London for her work in poetry. Shire’s poetry also appeared in Beyonce’s visual Lemonade album last year. Her book of poetry, Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth, is an absolute must-read.
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
4. Upile Chisala
Upile Chisala self-published her first work, soft magic. The book has been self-described as an exploration of “self, joy, blackness, gender, matters of the heart, the experience of the Disaspora, spirituality and most of all how we survive.” It is heartfelt. Imperative. Stunning. Necessary. Read this book.
I am dripping melanin and honey.
I am black without apology.
5. K.Y. Robinson
K.Y. Robinson’s first published work is a searing work of art. The Chaos of Longing (that title alone!) is an intimate compilation of poetry and prose. It is honest and relatable. It explores images and ideas not easily or frequently vocalized. Her poetry is beautiful and aching and raw. She is currently working on her second book, Water.
i'm half jerk chicken
and collard greens
in this nightmare
called the american dream.
6. Key Ballah
Preparing My Daughter For Rain, Key Ballah’s poetry debut, is a revelation of sorts. It acts as a letter to her future daughter—a guide for navigating the world as a black, Muslim woman. It is love almost entirely captured by words. If a picture paints a thousand words, then this collection of poems paints at least a few hundred pictures.
They destroy your country,
with their guns,
And then turn around
and shame you
for trying to escape their disaster.
This. is. how. to. oppress.
7. Alexandra Elle
Alexandra Elle is known for poetry illuminating ideas of self-love and self-care. Elle has penned multiple poetry collections including, Words of a Wanderer, Love in My Language, and most recently, Neon Soul—a collective infusion of poetry and prose. Her work is hopeful and positive, for those looking to give themselves some much needed love and comfort.
my thighs kiss each other.
the thickness is real. I used to hate that my
thighs touched and that my ass moved. I used
to hate not being 115 anymore. but this body is
a blessing. thin or thick. being a woman is a
lesson, is a journey, is an honor.
8. Landan Osman
Landan Osman poetry has been published in several notable literary magazines. She was awarded the Sillerman First Book Prize for her poetry collection, The Kitchen Dweller’s Testimony. Much of Osman’s poetry, often narrative and personal, centers on her identity as a black Somali woman and as a Muslim. Definitely check out her incredible work.
I am so poor before you. A grackle
whose colors are as good as a peacock's,
sometimes better in the full face of the sun.
The love poem I meant to say
is lost. Instead, I swear an oath.
I curse like someone speaking
in a foreign language. Instead of leave
I say scourge. The proper word a chick's voice
still in its egg, a beak in a small crack.
Your blood is hot and flowing,
and the hinges of your heart's valves
allow traffic in all your heart's rooms.
Is that why the little kisses are not enough?
9. Ijeoma Umebinyuo
Ijeoma Umebinyuo has been hailed one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s greatest contemporary poets. Her work has appeared in publications such as, The Stockholm Review of Literature and The Rising Phoenix Review and has even participated in a TEDX Talk. Her first collection of poetry,Questions for Ada, aches and soothes. It is a transformative piece of art that will leave you longing for more.
"you are beautiful"
I told him
is a lazy and lousy way to describe me.
10. Safia Elhillo
Safia Elhillo has been awarded the Brunel University African Poetry Prize as well as the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. She has received numerous fellowships and her poetry has appeared in several journals. She has also participated in TEDXNew York. Her collection of poetry, The January Children, explores identity in relation to nationhood and how to traverse a newly postcolonial world.
I Guess By Now I Thought I'd Be Done With Shame
but I opened my coat to prove a point
and kept coming home with colds.
I thought I was done stuffing fists in my mouth to mute the sound.
Done lying about what trails my throat
had charted. I practiced looking tall
men in the eye, spoke loudly,
pronounced every 'R.'
I chopped wood at midnight.
I left the shower and kept
singing. I sand about my body
like I was proud. I was proud.
Summer time is the perfect time to get reading. Now get in your car and drive to the nearest bookstore, and for the less actively inclined, go to Amazon and start supporting these incredibly talented poets. You will not be disappointed. If anything, you might walk away more whole–a transformed human being who understands that they need self-love, self-care and that they are not alone.