Black History Month 2020

October is Black History Month, and to mark the occasion The Poetry Society has identified a selection of its latest content that celebrates Black culture, from its programme of educational activities, commissions and its journal The Poetry Review.

For young readers, The Poetry Society has gathered together a series of favourite poetry books for young people that explore the experiences of black writers for these times. In a recent feature for Young Poets Network, ‘Sailing Away to a New Land’, Hannah Lowe introduces the legendary James Berry – a poet who migrated from Jamaica to Britain in 1948 and was one of the first to use Jamaican vernacular in his writing. Poetry can provide a space to interrogate race, identity, perception and prejudice, as last year’s Foyle Young Poets winner Amy Saunders demonstrates in her poem ‘You’re Not Black’.

Teachers can use the free classroom resource, ‘Identity and Performance Poetry’, which uses Samilah Naira’s SLAMbassadors winning poem ‘Denied of Identity’ to provoke critical and creative engagement for key stages 3 and 4. Another resource which can be used with poetry groups, classes or children is ‘Hope on a Postcard’. Featuring poems by Patricia Smith, Major Jackson and Raymond Antrobus, these exercises examine themes of poverty, racism and war, inspired by Dr Martin Luther King’s acceptance speech for an honorary doctorate at Newcastle University in 1967.

The Poetry Society is committed to supporting black writers through publication and commissions, such as Ian Humphrey’s ‘Treading Water’ which was commissioned for Waterlines, a collaboration between the Poetry Society and the Canal and River Trust, and Keith Jarrett’s ‘From the Log Book’, commissioned as part of last year’s project ‘Where Light Falls’, in partnership with Historic England.

Stand out poems published in The Poetry Review this year include D.S. Marriot’s poem ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ and Rachel Long’s ‘Red Hoover’, from her Forward-shortlisted debut collection My Darling from the Lions (Picador, 2020). Kimberly Reyes’s poem ‘a constitution’ offers a perspective on race from the US, while UK-based poet Sandeep Parmer explores the LA riots in ‘The Nineties’. In a Behind the Poem piece, Isabelle Baafi reflects on her poem ‘hotboxing’ and the way race shapes experience: “[M]y black is not your black is not his black is not her black is not their black is not our black. But having been draped – all of us – in that same concocted black, we are able to bolster each other because we all know how wearing it feels.”

Other reading and resources

Resources and writing to tackle racism

Thinking Outside the Penalty Box – an anthology of poems inspired by African footballers in Britain

‘Two Guns in the Sky for Daniel Harris’ by Raymond Antrobus

‘What We Have’ by Warsan Shire

‘Nine nights’ by Malika Booker

23 October 2020