Ask a teen if they have a favorite poem and the answer may surprise you. Young people are experts in self-expression, and what higher form of self-expression is there than the poem?
It probably doesn’t hurt that we introduce poetry appreciation and poetry writing to children starting at a very young age. Students grow up with Phillis Wheatley, Langston Hughes, Eloise Greenfield, and Gwendolyn Brooks, to name just a few brilliant and enduring Black poets. This got us thinking about the many contemporary Black poets who entertain and inspire readers.
Here are a few recommendations for teens and young adults:
Say Her Name by Zetta Elliott
Zetta Elliot’s collection, Say Her Name, borrows its title from the 2014 campaign by the African American Policy Forum addressing violence against Black women, girls, and femmes. Elliot, a prolific writer, feminist, and activist, wrote and compiled these poems with the intent to empower her readers. These are poems about social justice, identity, self-care, anger, and joy. Readers will enjoy the variety of forms, including dozens of haiku, and the beautiful full-color illustrations by Loveis Wise. This book inspires and instructs. Elliot includes several poems by poet-elders Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton, and Nikki Giovanni. The thoughtful notes section at the back of the book answers all of your questions about the imagery and allusions within and gives insight into Elliot’s own path to inspiration. Read it, share it, and try your own hand at a poem to empower.
AfroPoetic by Jaylene Clark Owens
Performance Poetry is (deservedly) having a moment. Of course, it has always been here—from open mics to slams to main stages—and it’s here to stay. Poet, playwright, and member of The Wilma Theater’s resident acting company, HotHouse, Jaylene Clark Owens’ poems are intended for performance. Her debut collection, AfroPoetic, is a masterclass in self-expression. Older teens and young adults, read up! You are invited to a virtual Spoken Word Workshop with Jaylene in April as part of this year's One Book, One Philadelphia programming.
Every Body Looking by Iloh Candice
Candance Iloh’s debut novel is a compelling story told entirely in verse. It follows a young Black woman on a journey of self-discovery as she begins college. In alternating chapters, she revisits her complicated past. Novels in verse are satisfying to read, especially for reluctant readers or anyone who wants to get right down to the story. But don’t be deceived by this quick read. At 400 pages (that’s 400 poems!), this book is deep, complex, and satisfying. In addition to being a writer, Candace Iloh is a youth educator, a dancer, and a highly accomplished Poetry Slam artist. She once performed as Nikki Giovanni at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore. We can’t wait to see what she does next.
Fun fact: Two of these authors live in Philadelphia, and one of them used to!
Who is your favorite contemporary Black poet?
Want to discover more local poets?
Check out Philadelphia Poet Laureate Trapeta B. Mayson’s Healing Verse Philly!