14 Gorgeous Poems Written and Performed By Poets of Color

Poets happen to be the only rock stars I’ve ever looked up to. Because that’s what poets do. They make you look up and meet their eye as they express every sorrow, joy and regret with as much honesty as they can muster. They make you smile, chuckle, tear up and sometimes full-blown ugly cry as they voice the emotions you didn’t even know you felt. When poets of color talk about the nuances of racism, supremacy or even the everyday details of their life; I want to soak in all the gloriousness.

I am more creative, more aware and more empathetic for having found my way to poetry. I hope everyone comes across a poet they are either completely in awe with or one who makes their chaotic existence a little easier.  To help the process, here’s a list of gorgeous poems written and performed with passion by poets of color.

1) Hair by Elizabeth Acevedo

They say Dominicans can do the best hair. I mean they wash, set, flatten the spring in any loc – but what they mean is we’re the best at swallowing amnesia, in a cup of morisoñando, die dreaming because we’d rather do that than live in this reality, caught between orange juice and milk, between reflections of the sun and whiteness. What they mean is, “Why would you date a black man?” What they mean is, “a prieto cocolo” What they mean is, “Why would two oppressed people come together? It’s two times the trouble.” What they really mean is, “Have you thought of your daughter’s hair?” And I don’t tell them that we love like sugar cane, brown skin, pale flesh, meshed in pure sweetness.

Books by Elizabeth Acevedo: The Poet X , Clap When You Land

2) The Introvert’s Banter by Rabia Kapoor

“I don’t really have anything to say that hasn’t been said before
I don’t have any claims to make that haven’t been claimed before
I don’t have any movements to organize that haven’t been moved before
But I like to write, and I like people to listen
and I’ve never really been heard before.”

3) The Heart and the Fist by Rudy Francisco

“The word repurpose,
It means to take an object and give it amnesia.
It means to make something forget what it’s been trained to do so you can use it for a better reason.
I am learning that this body is not a shotgun.
I am learning that this body is not a pistol.
I am learning that a man is not defined by what he can destroy. I am learning that a person who only knows how to fight can only communicate in violence,
And that shouldn’t be anyone’s first language.
I’m learning that the only difference between a garden and a graveyard is what you choose to put in the ground.
You see, once, I came across a picture of a strange-looking violin.
The caption said that it was made out of a rifle.
I thought to myself, ‘Someday that could be me’.”

Books by Rudy Francisco: Helium, I’ll Fly Away 

4) Where Are You Really From? by Priya Malik

“Yes I’m brown like my mother’s puris that she only savors on special occasions. Yes I’m brown like that little birthmark on my father’s wrist. Yes I’m brown like my sister’s cinnamon coated laughter.
I should be lucky for my natural tan but I’m not brown for the love of your solarium.
I am not an exotic sauce for your stir fry.
No I will not be your token foreigner friend. 
So next time you ask me where I’m from—where I’m really, really from?
I will tell you that I’m from my mother’s goddamn womb. Why, how about you?”

5) Defiance, Ohio is the Name of a Band by Hanif Abdurraqib

 

“And so when the band sings
Here’s to this year I never thought I’d make it through
I put my arms around someone else who did make it and swayed along as a clock swung itself past midnight at the end of December
And I saw Defiance, band in another sweaty room in ’07
And everyone there was sad
So no one was into fighting that night
And the band with the cello and the band with the banjo strings stood thick and heavy in the air
No one seemed to mind
It’s like if we all try hard enough in the same room
Everyone can remember what it is to lose somebody at the same time”

Books by Hanif Abdurraqib: The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, A Fortune for Your Disaster

6) The Period Poem by Dominique Christina

“women know how to let things go, how to let a dying thing leave the body, how to become new, how to regenerate, how to wax and wane, not unlike the moon and tides, both of which influence how you behave, I digress. 

Women have vaginas that can speak to each other and by this I mean, when we’re with our friends, our sisters, our mothers, our menstrual cycles will actually sync the fuck up. My own cervix is mad influential, everybody I love knows how to bleed with me. Hold on to that, there’s a metaphor in it.”

Books by Dominique Christina: They Are All Me, This Is Woman’s Work

7) How to Love Your Introvert by Kevin Yang

There will be many times when you will be uncomfortable in my silence unsure of how I am feeling. Understand that just because I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve for everyone to see does not mean it beats any softer than yours. Do not confuse the stillness of lips with rhythm of apathy. Do not confuse the sound of words rounding off 80 beats per minute with the music of an actual conversation just because I cannot commit the act of small talk does not mean I don’t have huge things to say. Just because I find peace within myself does not mean that I could ever stop wanting to love so hard.

8) Dear White America by Danez Smith

“You asked “why does it always have to be about race?” Because you made it that way. Put an asterisk next to my sister’s gorgeous face, call her pretty for a black girl because black girls go missing without a whisper of where. Because there are no amber alerts for the amber skinned girls”

Books by Danez Smith: Don’t Call Us Dead, Homie

9) won’t you celebrate with me by Lucille Clifton

“won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.”

Books by Lucille Clifton: The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965–2010, Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988–2000

10) If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar

“mashallah I claim them all
my country is made
in my people’s image
if they come for you they
come for me too in the dead
of winter a flock of
aunties step out on the sand
their dupattas turn to ocean
a colony of uncles grind their palms
& a thousand jasmines bell the air
my people I follow you like constellations”

Books by Fatimah Asghar: After, If They Come for Us: Poems

11) Aristotle by Clint Smith

“I’m just a 25 year old public school teacher who continuously questions everything he’s ever known. We have skin of a common complexion but a lifetime of experiences more dissimilar than the solar system. So who am I to come into this classroom and tell you what to do. A quarter lifetime’s worth of missteps have taught me that my savior complex is something I need to shed from my skin so trust that I’m not trying to save you because I’m still trying to save myself. Honestly, how can I teach him to believe in Plato when gentrification taught to me is nothing more than Plato, something to be moved and molded at will by those doing the sculpting so there’s only one thing left to do—become the sculptor and not the sculpted, become the statistician and not the statistic.”

Books by Clint Smith: Counting Descent

12) He/She by Paul Tran

“I’m not here to obey your binary, I’m not here to make you comfortable. I’m here to free myself. I am surrendering my body to the desert wind. I surrender my body to the fire. I burn everything I touch as I race to freedom. I mean gender queer. Gender queer makes me nobody’s son or daughter. Being gender queer makes me nobody’s lover. Everyone I know and love is gone. Everyone I have known and loved has disowned me. That’s why I must own myself. I own myself. I am the sky burning red and scorched with heat. I am the Sun swallowing this entire galaxy and I am the failure of his imagination when God made me in His image. I’m God giving himself a second chance. I’m God starting over and saying saying let there be light so these fools can see me for who I am.”

13) vocabulary by Safia Elhillo

“fact: the arabic word هواء (hawa) means wind
the arabic word هوى (hawa) means love

test: (multiple choice)
abdelhalim said                you left me holding wind in my hands
or abdelhalim said            you left me holding love in my hands

abdelhalim was left                  empty
or
abdelhalim was left                  full

fairouz said                   o wind, take me to my country
or
fairouz said                   o love, take me to my country

fairouz is looking for               vehicle
or
fairouz is looking for               fuel

oum kalthoum said            where the wind stops her ships, we stop ours                                     or
oum kalthoum said            where love stops her ships, we stop ours

oum kalthoum is                      stuck
or
oum kalthoum is                      home”

Books by Safia Elhillo: The January Children, The Life and Times of Susie Knuckles

14) Why I Haven’t Told You Yet by Emi Mahmoud

“A friend once told me that romance is like a house. You the girl, open the window and he the boy, climbs in. Hey asshole, the window is open. But that’s when I start wondering why I’m standing at a house. A house built by a generation of men and women who have a habit of putting people in pretty boxes. I wonder what broken architect laid these bricks. To have me here walking the corridors of my own mind  seeing the remnants of a guy who doesn’t belong there, his hand print on the mirror and silhouette at the corner table. I open my eyes. He once said I’m cute when I’m angry. Well, I’m about to look phenomenal.”

Books by Emi Mahmoud: Sisters’ Entrance


Click here to be introduced to more modern poets of color.

Also, check out these lists of beautiful love poems, moving poem about depression, super short poems and poems about life.

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