Reading Progress:

6 Unforgettable Black Poetry Collections

by Jo Webley-Brown

From the concrete heights of a North Peckham estate to the azure shores of the Zambezi River, these are the brilliant minds of the Black men and women instructing us to look at experience through a human lens. Their collections complement one another in imaginative power, creating what it means to be a Black person in love and in pain, homesick and hopeful. These six 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 explores Safiya Sinclair’s Jamaican childhood, otherness, and race relations in America by way of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Sinclair’s language is fertile and lushly mythic, letting it be known that neither body nor place feel her own. Like a cannibal, the diasporic self is changing, free-forming, and ravenous for more. Cannibal marks the arrival of an exciting addition to Caribbean 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 covering body image, religion, racism, class, and more. These poems are refreshingly accessible and what lingers long after reading is the way Long makes you feel.

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

Don’t be deceived by the cover. Jasmine Mans does much more than effortlessly capture the experiences of queer black girlhood and motherhood. In “Whitney: Hologram”, she swiftly unpacks the commodification of celebrity culture. Styled as a word-search, “Missing Girls” states the names of all the missing black women who fall outside the media’s attention. It’s both filled with darkness and joy, and it’s precisely this dimensionality that makes it shine.

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. This is the story of how distance and time, love and history collapse within the female body, how the past proves continuous with the present. We are made to consider change, permeance, and the realities of being human in words of remarkable beauty and clarity.

2. BLOOD CONDITION 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 introspective exploration of past and present, grief and place. The blood condition named, HIV, is that of his parents, both of whom he lost to HIV-related illnesses and to his motherland ravaged by the disease. This collection is a quiet reflection on all that has been lost and all we’ve yet to find.

1. POOR by Caleb Femi

Caleb Femi’s debut poetry collection is a love letter to a maligned community and the lives of the young black men who make it up. It’s also a collection of original photography bringing to life the richness of this community, demanding we see and recognise the softness in the concrete. A restless and startlingly tender ode to the inner-city, Poor touches on regeneration, love, and being.

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 writer and reader based in London. In 2020 she was one of fourteen budding authors chosen to be part of the WriteNow Penguin Random House scheme. Her dystopian novel is in progress. Find her on Twitter @jowebleybrown.

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