An Anti-Racist Poetry Reading List

These recent poetry collections—featuring quotes from Publishers Weekly reviews—offer poignant narratives and snapshots of racial injustice in America, from lasting testaments of systemic violence to a public appeal for the vital work that remains to be done as the country confront its legacy of racism and exploitation.

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes
“Hayes…addresses this marvelous series of 70 free-verse sonnets to his potential assassin: a nameless, faceless embodiment of America’s penchant for racially motivated violence.”

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine 
“In this trenchant new work about racism in the 21st century, Rankine…extends the innovative formal techniques and painfully clear-sighted vision she established in her landmark Don’t Let Me Be Lonely…. Rankine’s poetics capture the urgency of her subject matter.”

Homie by Danez Smith
“These poems are a celebration of black culture and experience, and a condemnation of white supremacy and its effects.”
Hybrida by Tina Chang
“Primarily…this is a book about the speaker’s son: her love for him, and how she and he negotiate his blackness in the world.”

Magical Negro by Morgan Parker 
“Parker writes of the black experience not as an antidote or opposite to whiteness, but a culture and community where irreplicable nuances are created in spite of, not because of, pain and trauma.”
Living Weapon by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
“Phillips explores social ills while celebrating poetry’s ability to provide solace and sense during times of upheaval.”

Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry: Poems & Artifacts by Nikky Finney
Finney…returns with her first collection in a decade, artfully interweaving memories from her life with episodes from throughout black history.


The Tradition by Jericho Brown
“Brown’s book offers its readers a communion of defiant survival, but only ‘Once you’ve lived enough to not believe in heaven.’”
We Inherit What the Fires Left by William Evans
“Evans recounts the mundane moments of pride and learning that come with fatherhood, as well as the larger systemic threats and legacies of violence that underlie his experience as a black American.”
White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia by Kiki Petrosino
“In this deeply felt fourth collection, Petrosino investigates her family tree—especially its roots in Virginia—and reports back on this exploration and its gaps…. This is an important and remarkable exploration of heritage.”
Bonus Links:
An Anti-Racist Reading List
A Social Justice Resources List


This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

Poetry Is for Everyone: The Millions Interviews Stephanie Burt

In her recent book, Don’t Read Poetry, critic and poet Stephanie Burt addresses six chief reasons to read poetry, offering an accessible, thorough, and thoughtful introduction to the form. By considering a range of poets and forms, Burt paints a generous picture of the myriad of ways poems can delight:
“So: don’t read poetry. Don’t assume poetry ever means only one thing, other than maybe a set of tools for making things with words, as music means a set of tool (beats, rhythms, harmonies, textures, instruments) for making things with sound.”
We caught up with Burt, to talk about her new book, the health of poetry, and how the Internet has changed the form.
The Millions: There’s been an influx of books in recent years on how to, or how not to, read poetry. Why do you think that is?
Stephanie Burt: Books on what poetry’s about aren’t new. They’ve been around since the early 19th century. But it does seem like there have been more books specifically intended for a larger and nonacademic audience recently. One reason is that poetry—in all its various meanings: objects of verse, lyric texts, sonically interesting pieces of language—is not capital intensive and is easy to find and circulate. At the same time, people don’t have a lot of confidence in how to talk about poetry or describe what they like.
TM: Why are people always saying poetry is on its deathbed?
SB: The visible diversity and the presence of people of color in the front ranks of the poetry world, I think, produced a bit of anxiety among some older white figures who feared they were being shoved out of the way. And that’s nonsense.
TM: Poetry has exploded on the Internet. Is that good or bad for the art form?
SB: If half as many people purchase the Selected Poems of William Butler Yeats but 10 times as many are sending one another links to Yeats’s poem “Meditations in Time of Civil War” over social media, that’s a net gain in how many people are reading and loving Yeats. I’ll take that.

TM: Why is reading widely, especially from the past, so vital?
SB: The vast explosion of interest via social media in non-book forms of poetry does tend to be presentist. It’s important that we not neglect the past.

Today’s best writers of color and today’s best writers of underrepresented groups, including groups that I belong to, are writers who have learned from the dead. A work is only great if people keep reading it and thinking it’s great. If people read it and say, “This isn’t for me,” decanonization happens, but it is important that people see and at least give the past a chance. Paradise Lost and The Canterbury Tales are around still, not because a whole bunch of people whose views some contemporary readers don’t like have said, “This is your culture,” but because generation after generation of poets have actually taken a look at it and said, “You know, I can really learn something from this. This is fun.”
This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly and also appeared on publishersweekly.com.