Precedent. For many people of the Black diaspora, these times are not unprecedented.
We know history even when formal education deprives us of it. We know our ancestors, as many as are on record and remembered. We understand racism, disease, and inequity because we have been the victims of it for over 400 years of genocide and disenfranchisement due to institutional and individual racism and oppression.
In the reclaiming art of poetry, in this collective space that is BPR, on this Juneteenth commemorating the end of slavery, what do we do with these times of precedence?
The poetry of Tracie Morris, Marcus Jackson, and Steven Willis, in this inaugural issue of Black Poetry Review, look to trees and television, to the Transatlantic slave trade, to prayer and spirituality, to the plague, to unsavory traditions and power structures, and to the organization of flora and fauna, making both the natural and the human-made strange so that we take a second look.
One can note the added gravity in Morris’ haiku in the third line, “lower helicopter” juxtaposed against the first line, “Oppressive June heat.” Is it a rescue or the end? Is this a medical helicopter or a military one?
Then, there is surprise and arrival in Willis’ “John 3:16 Makes an Appearance,” whereby John 3:16 appears on a myriad of objects so that it is “Then again. Begotten/during the hardest times/as the only sign/you still believe.” The repetition of “then again” and “as” provide a generous and feverous energy, the energy of prayer, perhaps, the energy of hope while Willis’ spoken delivery slows the poem and shifts the mood of the poem to near-solemn, to near-defiant at the end. Black Poetry Review publishes poetry that is performed/spoken, inter-media, textual, or in any style.
In Marcus Jackson’s “Impermanence and Thirst Among Infinite Appointments,” there is a musing on the artifice of labor, culture, and social decorum. Yet, for this issue, the most striking connection is the retake on “infinite” at the close, “in a modest production soon known/ for forcing all in its vicinity toward celebrating/ the impermanence of our radiance.” This radiance appears under review and yet the line, brightly in its own stanza, “the impermanence of our radiance,” takes on new life, is a beautiful transference all on its own – vivified.
Thank you, poets, for the double-take, for the precedent of continuing on, of thinking deeply, of being beautiful in this pursuit, of making spirited work that moves me to remember that my heart is still beating even as my breath catches in my throat. We have each other. We have poetry. We have the poetry community. Humanity. Hope and action.
If you are tired readers and poets, rest here. Recharge. Delight, bearing witness to brilliance, Black brilliance, brilliance within all of us expressed in different ways. Radiance.
This is the inaugural issue of Black Poetry Review. Black Poetry Review is an online literary journal of poetry written by poets of the Black diaspora. It is free.
I founded this journal to increase the readership and accessibility of contemporary poetry by poets of the Black diaspora. I write to you in a nation in which the net worth of a Black family ($17,150) * is ten times less than that of a white family ($171,000). I write to you in a nation in which Black poets are scattered, some report feeling isolated and tokenized.
Due to this inequity, we wish to never charge a fee for this journal due to our diverse readership. We are by solicitation only except for our inaugural year’s Discovery Issue for emerging poets of the Black diaspora with no submission fee and, potentially, open periods in the future.
To help increase the readership of poetry by poets of the Black diaspora, we encourage sharing this journal.
Thank you for reading this collective cloud.
Sincerely and with love,
*“Examining the Black-white wealth gap.” The Brookings Institution. 2019. http://www.brookings.edu.