The common topic of chosen poems is perseverance. Despite the social, economic, political, and other challenges, black men continued to persevere, to fight for their lives and their rights, even if sometimes unsuccessful. I believe these poems highlight the inner strength of black men through history and now, living through oppression and a society that struggles to accept who they are.
I Sing of Shine (Etheridge Knight)
The poem tells a tall tale of a black man, Shine, that flees the Titanic to save his life, leaving behind the white folk that once mistreated him to drown. The poem is a symbol for the ‘breaking of the chains,’ Shine perseveres and waits out his moment to finally attain his freedom and find his way home.
Rhythm & Blues (Amiri Baraka)
The poem describes a society in the wake of capitalism and racism, which brings down the lyrical hero and emphasizes the repression and silence of black men. At the same time, through the eyes of the narrator, a black man, there is perseverance as he lives through these experiences but continues to have hope, and despite being devastated, he talks of rising up and showing himself to the world.
Sanctuaries for the Deacon’s Sons (Gary Copeland Lilley)
This poem describes a man, presumably Black, who confesses that his life is full of drugs, hard work, worries, and crimes with imprisonment. Black men may find themselves often lost in life, but with perseverance, in work as described in the latter half, the man finds some peace and purpose in life.
Blackjack: b. 31 March 1878* (Kevin Young)
The poet expresses that he underwent different mockeries but still has reached popularity through his poetry while being Black, emphasizing that he is proud of his skin color, not ashamed. While it is difficult for any man to achieve fame and recognition, for a black man, especially in a field dominated by white poets and authors, it is harder than ever, but it took a special kind of perseverance to reach the point where he is, knowing that he broke through glass ceilings to get there.
The Lost Boys: A Requiem (Reginald Harris)
In this poem, the poet mentions his friends, whom he calls brothers, who are either deceased or got into hard circumstances, such as drug abuse, jail, or fatal diseases. The poem is of hardship and loss for many young black men, dying of circumstances out of their control, but their families and black communities must grief and move on, recognize that perseverance and fight for change are the only means of changing the circumstances so that more black lives are not lost in the future.
Baraka, A. (2016). S O S: Poems 1961–2013. Grove Press.
Harris, R. (2013). Autogeography: Poems. Northwestern University Press.
Knight, E. (1986). The essential Etheridge Knight (Pitt Poetry Series) (1st ed.). University of Pittsburgh Press.
Lilley, G. C. (2004). The subsequent blues (1st ed.). Four Way Books.
Young, K. (1998). Jack Johnson. Callaloo, 21(1), 31–42.