If 2017 was a poem, what would you call it?
This was the question Tabia Yapp ― the founder of BEOTIS, a boutique agency that represents leading writers, speakers and multidisciplinary artists of color ― posed to a group of contemporary poets she admired.
The open-ended question provided respondents with ample space to play. Some poets answered the prompt in two words, while others filled up pages, all while attempting to describe a time categorized by so much fear, anger, hope, action and love.
We’re only two months into 2017. At times, it feels like the year has already stretched beyond its 12-month boundaries. Yet at the same time, 2017 still doesn’t feel quite real. Just as Black History Month comes to a close, the following poets are helping us make sense of this uncertain moment in history, using language as a guide.
Behold, 34 poets of color summarize 2017 in verse*:
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1. Alok Vaid-Menon
Alok Vaid-Menon is a nonbinary artist with a lot of feelings.
2. Camonghne Felix
Camonghne Felix, M.A., is a poet, political strategist, media junkie and cultural worker. She received an M.A. in arts politics from NYU, an MFA from Bard College, and has received fellowships from Cave Canem, Callaloo and Poets House. The 2012 Pushcart Prize nominee is the author of the chapbook Yolk, and was recently listed by Black Youth Project as a “Black Girl From the Future You Should Know.”
3. Yosimar Reyes
Yosimar Reyes is an undocumented American poet and activist, who was born in Guerrero, Mexico, and raised in East San Jose, California.
4. Ada Limón
Ada Limón is the author of four books of poetry including Bright Dead Things which was nominated for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Kingsley Tufts Poetry award, and named one of the top 10 books of the year by The New York Times.
5. Hieu Minh Nguyen
Hieu Minh Nguyen is the son of immigrants. He is the author of two collections of poetry, This Way to the Sugar (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014) and Not Here (Coffee House Press, forthcoming in 2018).
6. Fatimah Asghar
Fatimah Asghar is a Kundiman Fellow and a member of the Dark Noise Collective. She is the author of the chapbook AFTER (YesYes books, 2015) and the co-creator and writer of the highly anticipated web series “Brown Girls.”
7. Clint Smith
Clint Smith is the author of Counting Descent (2016) and a doctoral candidate at Harvard University who has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, and the National Science Foundation. A 2014 National Poetry Slam champion, his writing has been published in The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, The Guardian, Boston Review, Harvard Educational Review and elsewhere.
8. Danez Smith
Danez Smith is the author of Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017) and the award winning [insert] boy (YesYes Books, 2014). Danez is a 2017 NEA Fellow and member of the Dark Noise Collective.
9. Eboni Hogan
Eboni Hogan is a Brooklyn-based poet, playwright, actress and curriculum writer who has performed in over 65 U.S. cities, as well as internationally in Ghana, Germany and Austria. She is the 2012 Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion and habitually bougie.
10. Paul Tran
Paul Tran placed Top 10 at the National Poetry Slam and Individual World Poetry Slam in 2015. They live in Brooklyn, where they serve as Poetry Editor at The Offing and Poet In Residence at Urban Word NYC.
Oompa is a hood, black, queer slam poet, rapper and Beyoncé aficionado from Boston seeking to make space where the world says there is none for her. She just released her debut album “November 3rd” in 2016 after making final stage with House Slam at the National Poetry Slam in Decatur, Georgia.
12. Joshua Aiken
Joshua Aiken won the 2016 Martin Starkie Prize for his poem “Disappearing Act(s)” while studying at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, and is an alumni of Washington University in St. Louis where he was a proud member of WU-SLam, a spoken word poetry community.
13. Janani Balasubramanian
Janani Balasubramanian is a writer of speculative fiction whose art and editorial work has been featured in The New Yorker, Guernica, Creative Time Reports, The New Inquiry and more. They’ve presented work at 160-plus stages across North America and Europe, including the Public Theater, MOMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Janani is currently working on “Sleeper” — a dystopian trilogy about sleep, dreams and physics.
14. Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib is a poet, writer and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. He is a columnist at MTV News and a Callaloo Creative Writing Fellow. His first collection of poems, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, was released by Button Poetry in 2016.
15. Safia Elhillo
Safia Elhillo is a Sudanese-American writer and educator living in Washington, DC. Her debut collection of poetry, The January Children, is available from University of Nebraska Press.
16. Denice Frohman
Denice Frohman is an award-winning poet, writer, performer and educator. She is a 2014 CantoMundo Fellow, 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion, 2013 Hispanic Choice Award winner, and performed at The White House in 2016.
17. Eve L. Ewing
Eve L. Ewing is a sociologist of race and urban education at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, a poet and an essayist. Her debut colleciton of poems, Electric Arches, is forthcoming September 2017 via Haymarket Books.
18. Elizabeth Acevedo
Elizabeth Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion with two collections of poetry, and The Poet X (HarperCollins, 2018) is her debut novel.
19. Jacqui Germain
Jacqui Germain is a poet and freelance writer based in St. Louis, with poems published in Muzzle Magazine and The Offing, and essays published in The New Inquiry and The Establishment. She’s the author of the chapbook, When the Ghosts Come Ashore, published through Button Poetry/Exploding Pinecone Press, and is still trying to figure out her own public and private resistance.
20. Jayson P. Smith
Jayson P. Smith is a Brooklyn-based writer, curator, performance artist and current Emerge-Surface-Be Fellow with The Poetry Project.
21. Ocean Vuong
Ocean Vuong is the author of Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a New York Times 2016 Top 10 Critics Pick and winner of the 2016 Whiting Award.
22. Nate Marshall
Nate Marshall is from the South Side of Chicago. He is the author of Wild Hundreds and an editor of The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop.
23. Cameron Awkward-Rich
Cameron Awkward-Rich is the author of Sympathetic Little Monster (Ricochet Editions, 2016) and the chapbook Transit (Button Poetry, 2015). A Cave Canem fellow and poetry editor for Muzzle Magazine, his poems have appeared/are forthcoming in Narrative, The Baffler, Indiana Review and elsewhere
24. Ariana Brown
Ariana Brown is an Afromexicana poet from San Antonio, Texas, with a B.A. in African diaspora studies and Mexican-American studies. She is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize, a 2014 national collegiate poetry slam champion, and is currently working on her first manuscript.
25. Kwame Dawes
Kwame Dawes is the author of City of Bones: A Testament (TriQuarterly, 2017). Dawes notes that his title is for an era that spans 2008–2020.
26. Nabila Lovelace
Nabila Lovelace is a first-generation Queens native; her people hail from Trinidad and Nigeria. Sons of Achilles, her debut book of poems, is forthcoming from YesYes Books.
27. Aja Monet
The revolution will be livestreamed on facebook and instagrammed by your favorite thot, triggered on twitter, so uber cool not to uber, the only bloodshed will be freebleeding or my pussy is borderless, you mean to tell me they dont have starbucks on this march? i wish a mothafucka would, dear 1968, you aint aged one bit, nothin new under the sun, the more things change the more they stay the same, this revolving door, my president is a puppet, white house of horrors, when the pedophile priests bless america, or the crooked babalao, voodoo these divided states, birth of no nation, if you know what’s good for you, kill capitalism, get free or die tryin, rosie the riveter ushers in new law and order, black magic will not be photoshopped, liberate these psychic streets.
Aja Monet is a Caribbean-American blues poet.
28. Porsha Olayiwola
: porsha o is joy in dystopia
: ready to die, again
: how to out breathe the ghost inhaling all around you
: watch me dance on the grave of everything that tried to kill me
: why is the blood so shiny ― so pretty splattered
: the black dyke avoids being devoured, again
: how attendance at therapy appointments and guided meditations heal humans
: how i got whole
: we do not run, here
: here, i am the riot
: watch me burn this place to ash
Porsha Olayiwola is the 2014 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion, the 2015 National Poetry Slam Champion, and the co-founder of House Slam. She identifies as a black, lesbian poet, a hip-hop feminist, an educator and a organizer.
29. Patricia Smith
You, so blatantly golden, the helm of every keening ship, so our plummet and our mirrors, so the steel-eye and bellow, you, ass perpetually clenched, sinking in your suit jacket, so our blunder and kismet, the tips of your dwarfish fingers bled raw with currency, you, relentlessly training your teeth, spit-glued crown defying every wind, you are the back-bended sniffler lost in the shadowed end of the school yard, you, legless savior, nailed to the same cross you carry.
Patricia Smith is a poet, teacher, performance artist and author. Smith is a professor at the College of Staten Island and in the Sierra Nevada College MFA program, recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, a National Book Award finalist and the author of eight critically acknowledged volumes of poetry, including her most recent, Incendiary Art.
30. Julian Randall
By this I mean less sexually (though if that’s your thing by all means get down with yourself) than there is nothing better suited to me to talk about survival than the idea of Morning. I’ve thought nearly every day of this new year about a casually brilliant quote from Natalie Diaz “What happens after the unimaginable? The morning after, and the one after that.” 2016 was almost across the board a year in which we faced so many events that we could only describe as being “the unimaginable”; I cite that every single time somebody mentions Prince dying I feel it all over again as if for the first time because my brain starkly refuses to hold onto the fact that he’s gone.
And yet, in the face of so many apocalypses (here I mean the tertiary definition of apocalypse, brought to my attention by the genius Junot Diaz, meaning “revelation” because I will not give this year or any other the dignity of being my presumed end) we are still here. Wounded, but here. Oppressed, but here. Grieving, but here. Fighting, and ain’t one of the criteria for fighting to be “here”, present, alive? And how truly awe worthy, fight worthy is that? Alive, after all this time. That’s as constant as dawn, whether the clouds ensnare the senses or not somewhere behind all that, the sun, daybreak. That to me is the Morning After it becomes “morning in America.”
As unimaginable tragedy and hurt settles into reality that we (here I am speaking specifically to marginalized folks, especially my own communities as a Queer Black & Afro-Dominican person) are in so many ways also “the unimaginable.” How many generations of survival and endurance and an irreducible desire to live have brought us this far? Does that not make us something unimaginable? Does that not give us the power to bring a morning too?
Julian Randall is a living queer black poet from Chicago pursuing his MFA at Ole Miss. He can be followed on Instagram and Twitter @JulianthePoet.
31. Aziza Barnes
cop is to take &
pig is a cop &
Jimmy is a Johnson &
Johnson is a dick &
Dick is a Richard &
Chip is a Frank &
Frank is honest &
Also a suggestion &
Dick is a suggestion &
Short for a fuller name &
Coarse is a word for hair &
Hair is dead & growing &
Dead is brown often on plants &
Green is money unless it’s young &
Guap is bread is cheese is where we put pesticides &
A pest is a hairy pussy & pussy
Is a pet or a chore or a slave &
A slave is brown so is dead so is hair so is also growing & Dick or
Short for the fuller name is a weapon or
An honest suggestion or
Something to cop or
Something to pig & pig is often an element of a verb “to pig” often it is a direction “out” which is
to eat a lot of unnecessarily & a jimmy is also a way to loosen what been locked also a verb “to
jimmy” which is also something to cop but short for the name theft which is to eat too much &
Is the opposite of fine which is
Too thin for light &
Unable to braid & also just
Okay & okay is how Andrew Jackson signed his checks which is also how Richard Blaine
signed his checks in Casablanca OKAY which is a movie about a Dick that Jimmy’d a fine slave
or a Richard that Johnson’d a nation for some young or a man that stole a woman for $10,000
francs & called it a name that didn’t relate or a shared name with a commander to genocide of
Native Americans & of which I am one & if OKAY wasn’t OKAY’D there would be more of me &
dick had a black piano player
Or dick had a suggestion for a dead music which is Latin song &
Rome is where Latin was & the aqueduct
Was a system of moving dirt from water from the people or a system of a pest to eat versus a
pest to drown which is what happened to many coarse bodies or women bodies or slave bodies
in certain lakes in the Americas where Richard Blane is from & saved by throwing a fine green
on a plane for his coarse green love or his hair grown dead or his OKAY gone OKAY or his
unable to braid suggestion of a cop which is also a pig which can be a pet if it behaves well.
Aziza Barnes is blk and alive. Winner of the 2015 Pamet River Prize, Aziza’s first full length collection i be but i ain’t is from YesYes Books 2016. They are a Cave Canem Fellow, co-founder of The Conversation Literary Festival and co-host of the podcast “The Poetry Gods.”
32. Dominique Christina
The year is no poem.
It won’t be called anything
With light inside it.
It snatches milk from
The mouths of infants
A lion devouring shrines and sunlight.
2017 is a weapon.
A low groan in the dark,
A woman in the basement
With a wire hangar and a baby
No bigger than a mustard seed
That she will meet as an ooze in her palms
2017 is the lynch mob discography:
All strung up like
Mardi Gras beads on Main Street
The stench doesn’t stop the parade
2017 is a funeral procession.
A lunatic’s marching orders
Celebrity Apprentice on
A terrible loop,
2017 is no poem.
It’s the bastard child of
Interred bones in the Tallahatchie River
A severed spine in Baltimore
A boy’s brain on the street in Ferguson
The last breath of a man in New York
Traffic stops that crescendoed to murder
2017 is a dustbin
Stacked with protest signs and court orders
The lickety split shudder
Of a nation that ran into its ghosts
And only the women were
Acquainted with being haunted.
Empty cupboard soliloquy queens
Snatching their children
From public schools and
Handing them switchblades
Mommy is sorry.
This is what the teacher won’t show you.
These bastards need mortality.
2017 is the state house glittered now in menstrual blood.
Girl children baying at the dawn limp moon
Oak trees decorated with brassieres
Nazis with their teeth knocked out
A linguistic resistance
With no room for words like “alt right”
When “white supremacy” is story enough.
2017 is no poem.
It’s a pipeline trying
To breech an ocean,
A woman in a wheelchair
At a protest rally,
A tear gas canister on the steps of the Capitol.
2017 didn’t bring my God with it.
Just hexes and hurricane winds
A democracy doomed by
The wrong weather wreckage of
Rich men and their crucifixion fetish
We gon all carry a cross
You better believe it
Let whatever happens be biblical then.
Let the locusts come if they must.
America is a murdered woman
Ghosting the world
With her cracked levees,
Her burned out mosque,
Her shot up church,
Her impossible promise
Her unmarked graves,
And I am dumb with calling her name.
Despite the yelps of history,
My wobbly faith splits heaven wide open
Reimagines God as mammy,
Starch white apron and a shotgun,
Babies suckling at her unremarkable breasts
Pushing scripture out from the rubble
Saying the battle is finally over and me,
War-walloped and heaving,
Rummaging through debris looking for
Something that glitters...
(If that is your real name)
Take these bones and perform
One last miracle
Take these hands and give me
Back my mouth
Take this mouth and give me back my feet
Take these feet and give me back my courage
Dazzle this uncaptured girl that I might
Live long enough to tell my grandchildren
About the year I stopped beseeching God and
In the trench grew my own temple.
God of the in-between,
God of the firing pin,
God of the slaughtered lamb,
God of a risen god,
Unspell me, here.
I am singing you the hymn of my skirt.
I am burning yellow dahlias on my
One good altar not splintered by shrapnel
Or singed with smoke...
If there is any prayer left
In this world let it be
What is left of our hearts,
Our coliseum hearts,
And the stupid hope that
Regulates the metronome
Of our blood machinery.
The orchestral thrumming,
The insistent rumble,
Of our broken, impossible hearts,
The only evidence I’e ever had
That mountains can be moved.
Dominique Christina is a mother, published author, licensed educator, two-time Women of the World Slam Champion, social agitator, intersectional feminist and cultural Jedi. She is sought after to teach and perform at colleges and universities nationally and internationally every year.
33. Jason Reynolds
IF 2017 WERE A POEM
i’d call it
a flaming bag of shit
left at the front door at
the side door at
the back door
double-dutch bucking at
flames the orange
of them plucking at our faces
like immature older brothers
jarring us from sleep
barring us from passage
crackling like broken
voice smelling of familiar
kindling to some
to me at
cotton rope paper
add flint for spark
i’d call it
us all here
like every time this
prank the prank of
all stupid white boy pranks
figuring between filthying
our feet up or kicking
our feet up and letting
the whole damn house burn down
i’d call it
deciding to sacrifice
some chapped overworked epidermis
and an epidemic of
supple unbothered soles
eager to know stomp
i’d call it
we’re prepared to explain
the haunting fecal scent to the
promised to host
i’d call it
they are coming from far
they will need a place to stay
Jason Reynolds is The New York Times bestselling author of several novels for young people, including Ghost and All-American Boys, which he co-authored with Brendan Kiely. His new novel in verse, Long Way Down, hits stores this fall.
34. Mahogany L. Browne
When they turn bodegas into boutique grocery stores
When they bounce cops up the block
Like this hipster protection program won’t turn back
Lefrak into Harlem turn back Harlem into Chirac
turn back BedStuy into Brownsville turn Brownsville back
Into the Bronx back into Gaza back...
You will taste this strange and bitter American history
Where the Mom and Pop work more hours than the Governor
Where the pesticides overflow our sewer systems
Float our food deserts into neighborhoods
One way in
One way out
Tell me this gentrification be for my own good
Tell me this housing project keep us warfare ready
Tell me Biggie died for our sins
& I’ll show you a Brooklyn stoop with a babies’ name etched in chalk
A hashtag ghost gone already
A price tag on his sisters face
She’s been missing since Sunday
Where choppa lights paint concrete a trail of breadcrumbs
A haunting finding its way back to our homes
The Electoral College is
a lullaby designed to put us
back to sleep.
The ocean is weeping a righteous rage, she got questions for the living:
& what about the sweetheart who would grow to love Tamir Rice? Mike Brown? Korryn Gaines? Akia Gurley?
What about they mamas singing their name before each breakfast?
Or the church praying for their redemption ― bibles raised in the air?
What about their (almost) children? How about they Daddy’s smile?
What about they name make them so easy to turn to ash?
How we ghosting black boys for the toys we gift them?
On a Monday
A white body told my black body
It ain’t earned no apology for the bloodshed
For the nights when my skin grow so cold
I know I must be inches from death
For each death hand delivered to me,
this: silence this: certain dismissal this: post racial reality show this: confederate hug
& don’t it bloom like a mushroom sky?
What about the blues? Why it cry like hail? Why it hell like America so so long
Whatchu know about noose ready
Whatchu know about chalk lines & double barrels
Whatchu know about a murder weapon
Or a loose cigarette
Or a baby sleeping on a couch
Whatchu you know about the flag
The confederate fathers
The truck that followed me down a lonely road in Georgia
The names that I rolled off my tongue in prayer?
Bring me home
Or leave me steady
Gun aimed and cocked ready
Con artists turned 45th resident of the White House
While the 44th President is lifted off the grounds
by his shadow & his Black wife
She sideeye all day
She cheekbone slay
While the media aim and shot at presidential legacy
Until weed smoke & a concert make us remember BLK people ain’t never been human here
Ain’t we beautiful, those that survived the purging
Those that spill, body splay beautiful from a hateful song
This swing sweet sweet low spiritual ain’t neva been inclusive
Whatch know about larynx & baton
How you sing him crow in the key of Emmett Till
What fever fuss you awake?
Who else got cop’d anxiety?
Call it what it is: Post traumatic slave syndrome
Call it land tax until homeless
Call it abortion turned sterilization
Ain’t no lie like the one against our stillborn children
Ain’t no lie like the many that shaped our babies into mute cattle
Prison industrial complex reverberates in the tune of elementary
4th graders are the easiest targets
A Math Problem:
If 1 woman, got a 7 Mac 11
& 2 heaters for the beemer
How many Congress seats will NRA lose?
How many votes will it take for a sexual predator
to lift the White House off her feet?
I am practicing this aim
This tongue a shoestring strafe
My tongue say:
Melt the wires of Guantanamo
Yasin Bey coming home ain’t what we thought it would be
Ain’t no solace in Mecca
Even Spike Lee left Brooklyn
Here, a slumlord will leave my front steps
Full of rat piss & AirBnB my neighbors’ apartment
for half my take home pay
Unhinge the city of Rikers
Bring back the reapers
Give them the loot & the stoop
Yea, they good at killin’ but so was Jefferson.
I mean Washington. I mean CIA. I mean Cointelpro.
I mean they mimic your Grace. I mean it’s a 2017, America.
A new new year & your face lift be botched.
Mahogany L. Browne is author of Redbone (nominated for NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Works) and co-editor of forthcoming anthology The Break Beat Poets: Black Girl Magic. She is an internationally touring poet and Artistic Director of Urban Word NYC, Program Director of BLM@Pratt, Poetry Program Director at the Nuyorican Poets Café.
*All biographies were provided by Tabia Yapp and the participating poets.