Stealth Isolation: Black poetry of the future

JORDANNAH ELIZABETH | 5/28/2020, midnight
Can we stay grounded in the present while anticipating the future? It takes balance and it requires that we build ...

Can we stay grounded in the present while anticipating the future? It takes balance and it requires that we build a healthy relationship with time. Time can be a burden, but it can also be a beautiful blessing.

As stay-at-home orders are being lifted around the country, it is important that we understand that the time will come when all cities, states and households will have our freedom returned to us. But this future free will is a freedom of the future, meaning it will not resemble what we lived in the past. As we patiently wait for businesses to re-open, we can pivot our vision of the future to the arts and poetry. There are wonderful collections that are coming out this summer and fall, so I wanted to give us all something to look forward to. Here are Black poetry books of the future.

“Owed” by Joshua Bennett (Sept. 1, 2020)

Joshua Bennett’s new collection, “Owed,” is a book with celebration at its center. Its primary concern is how we might mend the relationship between ourselves and the people, spaces, and objects we have been taught to think of as insignificant, as fundamentally unworthy of study, reflection, attention, or care. Spanning the spectrum of genre and form—from elegy and ode to origin myth—these poems elaborate an aesthetics of repair. What’s more, they ask that we turn to the songs and sites of the historically denigrated so that we might uncover a new way of being in the world together, one wherein we can truthfully reckon with the brutality of the past and thus imagine the possibilities of our shared, unpredictable present, anew.

“Sometimes I Never Suffered: Poems” by Shane McCrae (Aug. 4, 2020)

Here, an angel, hastily thrown together by his fellow residents of heaven, plummets to earth in his first moments of consciousness. Jim Limber, the adopted mixed-race son of Jefferson Davis, wanders through the afterlife, reckoning with the nuances of America’s, as well as his own, racial history. “Sometimes I Never Suffered” is a search for purpose and atonement, freedom and forgiveness, imagining eternity not as an escape from the past or present, but as a reverberating record and as the culmination of time’s manifold potential to mend.

“Ain’t Never Not Been Black” by Javon Johnson (Oct. 13, 2020)

“Ain’t Never Not Been Black” foregrounds Black pleasure, Black pain and Black love in unflinchingly Black ways. Engaging with themes of masculinity, racism, love and joy, Johnson is at once critical and creative. His spoken word performance transfers effortlessly to the page, with poems that will encompass you. This is a book about Blackness and survival, and how in America these are inseparable. In a world of individualism, who can you hold close? In a world of danger, what makes you feel safe? From a poem written in the form of a syllabus, to another about the time his grandmother literally saved his life, Johnson’s creative expression is constantly enacting the mantra, “The personal is political.”

“Cosmic Deputy: Poetry and Context” by Kalamu ya Salaam (Sept. 24, 2020)

“Cosmic Deputy” is a literary memoir from esteemed activist, educator, producer and poet Kalamu ya Salaam. Representative poems from Salaam’s 50 years of writing are interspersed in an overarching essay tracing the poet’s multitude of influences. Toward mapping a theory of a Black literary aesthetic, Salaam explores the cultural inheritances of Black resistance movements, blues music, and the ways in which these sources and others have shaped not only his own work but Black letters more broadly.

“The Selected Works of Audre Lorde” by Audre Lorde (Sept. 8, 2020)

This essential reader showcases 12 landmark essays and more than 60 poems from Audre Lorde, selected and introduced by one of our most powerful contemporary voices on race and gender, Roxane Gay. The essays include “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” “I Am Your Sister,” and excerpts from the National Book Award–winning “A Burst of Light.” The poems are drawn from Lorde’s nine volumes, including National Book Award nominee “The Land Where Other People Live.” As Gay writes in her astute introduction, “The Selected Works of Audre Lorde” celebrates “an exemplar of public intellectualism who is as relevant in this century as she was in the last.”