10 Essential poetry books for activists

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Poetry is an art form that gives anyone and everyone a platform to say what they were never able to before: to take their grief, suffering, anger, desire and other intense feelings and articulate them into words. The subjective nature of poetry gives writers an outlet to express their opinions and emotions on matters considered controversial, making it a useful tool for social and political activists to speak their truths and feel heard. Given the current social climate, there is never a better time than now to reinvigorate and recharge yourself in your efforts to make a change. Here are 10 essential books that amplify powerful voices and will inspire you to stand your ground for what you believe in. 

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Danez Smith’s moving words create a utopian afterlife for Black men who were shot and killed by police. Don’t Call Us Dead takes the pain and grief away from the deaths at the hands of policemen, and instead turns it into a celebration of their desires, passions and vibrant lives. This collection of poems comments on the social climate of America and is especially relevant today. 


Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky

Deaf Republic is the fictional story of an occupied country and its citizens who went deaf after soldiers killed a deaf boy while trying to break up a protest. Ilya Kaminsky combines poetry and prose to tell the stories of the citizens whose lives are affected by this disability, the way they are coping with being in an occupied state, and how silence can become a tool of resistance. 


Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair

Safiya Sinclair speaks to readers in an arduous tone, using fiery language to illustrate the history of white supremacy and its toll on America. A series of poems on identity, womanhood, and race, Sinclair speaks truths loudly and defiantly. Her words rip through the pages in a flurry of passion, enough to spur the same magnitude of angst in the readers. 


And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

Written by one of the most distinguished poets and activists, And Still I Rise is just a fractional representation of Maya Angelou’s talent. Within these poems, she speaks on slavery, love, domestic abuse and may other difficult topics in a beautifully well-spoken manner. And Still I Rise makes its readers feel strong and invigorated as she shares her wisdom and bears her soul. 


Mezzanine by Zoe Hitzig

Mezzanine calls people to action, urging them to look at the various social, economic, technological and political systems in a new perspective. Zoe Hitzig incorporates scientific observation into her powerful poetry that invites readers to continuously question the systems that run humanity. 


Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua 

Both essays and poems come together in Gloria Anzaldua’s work on her experience as a Chicana lesbian activist. Readers will be flooded with new information on how to overcome ignorance, as Anzaldua defines “borders” and their social impact. Her poems challenge people to look past what’s on the surface and think more deeply and angrily about current matters. It is an educational piece perfect for bettering one’s self as an ally and an activist. 


The Black Unicorn: Poems by Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde encourages people to branch out beyond limitations in The Black Unicorn. An effective portrayal of struggles familiar to her as a Black lesbian feminist. She boldly expresses her opinions on matters that were particularly controversial during her time. The Black Unicorn inspires people to find a voice in themselves and to speak out for what they believe in. 


Incendiary Art by Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith elegantly phrases the pain and suffering that comes as a result of the deaths of Black boys, and the anger that rises as a result. Smith revisits the murder of Emmett Till and relates it to the call for resistance against the race crimes that plague America. She paints heartbreaking images of the lives that were lost, the mothers overwhelmed with grief, and the prominence of these tragic events. 


Teeth by Aracelis Girmay

Teeth is a hard-hitting collection of poetry that covers subject matter including rape, genocide and love. Aracelis Girmay offers her perspective as a woman of color and reassures readers that amidst the violence and terror, peace and justice are achievable. Girmay empathizes with people who are submerged in the world’s problems and instills comfort in their hearts.


Diving Into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich

A thought-provoking and timeless piece of literature that sheds light on social issues and aims to move people towards action, Diving Into The Wreck is purposeful and direct in its prose. Adrienne Rich, a radical feminist icon of the 1970’s, wrote this piece with the intent to dive into the wreck with her readers, exploring self reflection and the politics in everything. She defies a masculine establishment in an incredibly feministic series of poems. 

McKenzie Wurtz

McKenzie Wurtz graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications and a minor in Studio Art. She is currently a digital and social media intern for SparkPoint Studio. McKenzie enjoys writing, reading, painting and playing video games.

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