10 Inspiring Black History Month Poems

With Black History Month upon us, there is no better time than the present to reflect upon the history of black people in the United States and beyond. And there are few better ways to get across the messages that needed to be heard in the past — and still need to be heard today — than through poetry. Here are 10 inspirational Black History Month poems that share history and celebrate culture.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. American History, by Michael S. Harper

Those four black girls blown up
in that Alabama church
remind me of five hundred
middle passage blacks,
in a net, under water
in Charleston harbor
so redcoats wouldn’t find them.
Can’t find what you can’t see
can you?

 

  1. Coherence in Consequence, by Claudia Rankine

Imagine them in black, the morning heat losing within this day that floats. And always there is the being, and the not-seeing on their way to—

The days they approach and their sharpest aches will wrap experience until knowledge is translucent, the frost on which they find themselves slipping. Never mind the loose mindless grip of their forms reflected in the eye-watering hues of the surface, these two will survive in their capacity to meet, to hold the other beneath the plummeting, in the depths below each step full of avoidance. What they create will be held up, will resume: the appetite is bigger than joy. indestructible. for never was it independent from who they are. who will be.

Were we ever to arrive at knowing the other as the same pulsing compassion would break the most orthodox heart.

 

  1. On Being Brought from Africa to America, by Phillis Wheatley

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

 

 

  1. I am a Black Woman, by Mari Evans

I am a black woman

the music of my song

some sweet arpeggio of tears

is written in a minor key

and I

can be heard humming in the night

Can be heard

humming

in the night

I saw my mate leap screaming to the sea

and I/with these hands/cupped the lifebreath

from my issue in the canebrake

I lost Nat’s swinging body in a rain of tears

and heard my son scream all the way from Anzio

for Peace he never knew….I

learned Da Nang and Pork Chop Hill

in anguish

Now my nostrils know the gas

and these trigger tire/d fingers

seek the softness in my warrior’s beard

I am a black woman

tall as a cypress

strong

beyond all definition still

defying place

and time

and circumstance

assailed

impervious

indestructible

Look

on me and be

Renewed

 

  1. To a Dark Girl, by Gwendolyn B. Bennett

I love you for your brownness

And the rounded darkness of your breast

I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice

And shadows where your wayward eye-lids rest.

Something of old forgotten queens

Lurks in the lithe abandon of your walk

And something of the shackled slave

Sobs in the rhythm of your talk

Oh, little brown girl, born for sorrow’s mate

Keep all you have of queenliness

Forgetting that you were once were slave

And let your full lips laugh at Fate!

 

  1. Still I Rise, by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

 

  1. Blues on a Box, by Langston Hughes

Play your guitar, boy,

Till yesterday’s

Black cat

Runs out tomorrow’s

Back door

And evil old

Hard luck

Ain’t no more!

 

  1. Ode, by Elizabeth Alexander

I love all the mom bodies at this beach,

the tummies, the one-piece bathing suits,

the bosoms that slope, the wide nice bottoms,

thigh flesh shirred as gentle wind shirrs a pond.

 

So many sensible haircuts and ponytails!

These bodies show they have grown babies, then

nourished them, woken to their cries, fretted

at their fevers. Biceps have lifted and toted

 

the babies now printed on their mothers.

“If you lined up a hundred vaginas,

I could tell you which ones have borne children,”

the midwife says. In the secret place or

 

In sunlight at the beach, our bodies say

This is who we are, no, This is what

we have done and continue to do.

We labor in love. We do it. We mother.

 

  1. The First Book, by Rita Dove

Open it.

 

Go ahead, it won’t bite.

Well…maybe a little.

 

More a nip, like. A tingle.

It’s pleasurable, really.

 

You see, it keeps on opening.

You may fall in.

 

Sure, it’s hard to get started;

remember learning to use

 

knife and fork? Dig in:

you’ll never reach bottom.

 

It’s not like it’s the end of the world –

just the world as you think

 

you know it.