6 Unforgettable Black Poetry Collections

From the sticky facets of girlhood and the concrete heights of a North Peckham estate to the azure shores of the Zambezi River, these poetry collections are written by the brilliant minds of Black men and women who instruct us to continually look at our experiences through a multifaceted and human lens. These poems complement one another in their imaginative power, working as holistic look at what it means to be Black and in love, and in pain, homesick, and hopeful. You will find yourself in each and every page, and that is what makes these collections so special and deserving of their spot. These six lyrical books burn, fizz and flow, confirming what we already know: the future of Black books is excitingly bright.

6. Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair

Father, I have asked so many miracles
Of it. To be patient and forgiving,
To be remade for you in some small wonder. And what a joy
To still believe in anything
HOME

Cannibal reconciles The Tempest and postcolonial identity, exploring Sinclair’s Jamaican childhood, otherness, and race relations in America. Her dual identity and the effects of displacement often felt by those of the diaspora saturate each poem. Sinclair’s language is fertile and lushly mythic, letting it be known that neither her body nor place feels like her own. Like a cannibal, the diasporic self is changing, free-forming and ravenously hungry for more. Cannibal marks the arrival of an exciting new addition to the Caribbean’s prolific canon.

5. My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long

Will you allow a flower to open
like a door from your mouth,
or does a bouquet of horsewhips 
bloom from your right hand? –
The Garden

Shortlisted for the Forward Prize for the Best First Collection, My Darling from the Lions is split into three sections that deftly cover body image, religion, racism, class, and more. The poems are refreshingly accessible and would make the perfect present for someone looking to dip their toe into poetry. While some poems are stronger than others, what lingers long after you’ve finished is the way in which Long makes you feel. Her writing is incredibly vivid and memorable.

4. Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans

A woman stretched her body for me, and I have no words to describe her in wholeness, but without shame, I want you to know her. My mother. – We Host These Variables

Reading this poetry collection was like looking in the mirror, but don’t be deceived by the book’s cover. Though Mans captures the experiences of queer black girlhood and motherhood effortlessly, she also tackles so much more. In “Whitney: Hologram”, she demands we unpack the commodification of celebrity culture. Told in a word-search format, “Missing Girls” is a poem centred on the names of all the missing black women who fall outside the media’s attention. This collection’s topics are dark and at times filled with joy, and this multi-dimension is what makes it shine. You will learn and grow from the variety of emotions each poem elicits.

3. Bone by Ysra Daley-Ward

If you have made it past thirty
celebrate 
and if you haven’t yet,
rejoice. Know that there is a time
coming in your life when dirt settles
and the patterns form a picture –
Mental Health

We meet many women across the pages of bone: women in love, women who have lost, women overcoming racial and systemic abuse. Daley-Ward explores each woman and how distance and time, love and history can collapse within the female body, how their past continuous in their present. These poems consider change, permeance, and the realities of being human with remarkable beauty and clarity.

2. Blood Conditions by Kayo Chingonyi

Like many gods is a vengeful god but who would not want vengeance separated from their lover by the insistence of machinery the promise of copper the future open to those brave enough to take it – Nyaminyami

Whether lamenting the loss of his parents or recalling the banks of the Zambezi River, Blood Condition quietly dazzles in its exploration of past, present, grief and place. For Zambian-born Chingonyi, introspection permeates loudly. The so-called blood condition, namely HIV, anchors his poetic odes to his parents—both of whom he lost to HIV-related illnesses—and to his motherland, which continues to be ravaged by the disease. The poems are a quiet reflection of all that has been lost and all Chingonyi has yet to find. A must-read.

1. Poor by Caleb Femi

Femi’s debut poetry collection is a love letter to a maligned community and the multi-faceted lives of the young black men who live there. Alongside this is Femi’s original photography peppered across the pages, bringing to life the richness of this black community through everything from moments of the mundane to the vibrance of a friend’s house party. Both Femi’s words and photos demand we see softness in the concrete. A startlingly tender yet restless ode to the inner-city, Poor touches on regeneration, love and being. “Things I Have Stolen” is a personal stand-out.

Then I stole my torn name from the mouth
of the policeman who stops
and searches me
every week. Stole hunger pangs
from underneath our bed, at night.

Six years went by. At Kevin’s funeral
I reached into the air
and stole the family’s grief
– Things I Have Stolen

By Jo Webley-Brown

JO WEBLEY-BROWN is a London-based writer and reader. Her articles can be found on Bad Form Review as well as on her archived Bookstagram page @webleyreads. In 2020, she was one of fourteen budding authors chosen to be part of the WriteNow Penguin Random House scheme and her dystopian novel is in progress. You can find her on Twitter @jowebleybrown.

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6 Unforgettable Black Poetry Collections

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From the concrete heights of a North Peckham estate to the azure shores of the Zambezi River, these poetry collections are brilliant. 

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