8 Black Poets You Should Be Reading

To (belatedly) celebrate National Poetry Day, and for Black History Month, we've pulled together 8 Black poets you should have on your bookshelf. Though race is not a reason to band books together, each of these poets deserves uplifting for their own exquisite collections.

In no particular order:

Cannibal, Safiya Sinclair (Picador)

With its striking cover, Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal is a hard collection to miss. Sinclair has behind her a long list of awards - Whiting Writers’ Award, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Poetry, and a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award, to name just a few. Her beautiful collection reveals the female body in its entire form, entrancing, dark, and elegant. Top marks from us.

My Darling from the Lions, Rachel Long (Picador)

You can read Dominique’s full review of Long’s debut collection here, but to summise: “There is not a single moment that is not addictive in the way that she constructs a narrative across the poems. Every time you read her work, there is something different to discover and interpret. Reading this anthology once is not enough.” If you’ve not read it already, time to get on it.

salt. nayyirah waheed (Independent)

Waheed hardly needs introduction if you’re interested in modern poetry, but in case this poet has slipped you by, salt. is our favourite of her poetry collections. Known for her subversive social media displays of poetry, Waheed’s work is daring, heartwrenching, and an instant classic.

Olio Tyehimba Jess (Wave Books)

Using photos, drawings, interviews, foldouts, tables, facts, fictions, and poetry, Olio is a triumph of skill as well as talent. Weaving together all these forms, Jess examines the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers before and after the Civil War up to World War I. Also, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. A collection to treasure.

Homie, Danez Smith (Graywolf Press)

This is a book about friendship. Smith wrote these poems for him and his friends, and you can read it for you and yours. Smith acknowledges all the horrors of our modern world - racism, violence, homophobia, and that it can be hard to remember reasons for living, or just hard to survive. But friendship is our redemption. A wonderful collection.

A Recipe for Sorcery, Vanessa Kisuule (Burning Eye Books)

To say that this collection digs deep into human emotion is to barely scratch the surface. Kisuule’s collection is an explotion of feeling, a celebration, a mourning. Incredibly honest and deeply moving, Kisuule has both the talent and the skill to bring the complexities of the human spirit to life.

The Tradition Jericho Brown (Picador)

The copy for The Tradition describes Brown’s collection as 'daring'; this is a simple way to describe Brown’s visceral poetry. Brown asks of us the fundamental questions - what is safety? Who is the nation? What is freedom? A collection you’ll remember long after you’ve read it.

Poor Caleb Femi (Penguin)

One to watch out for - Femi’s debut collection Poor is released 5 November. We’ve had an advance look, and can tell you that it’s rare to read a debut poet that is so powerful. In the meantime, entrance yourself with this poem from 2017 that you can listen to here.

Thank you to Picador for the review copies of My Darling from the Lions and Cannibal.

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The print and digital literary review by Black, Asian, and racialised community writers.