“One Poem: A Protest Reading” a virtual reading presented by the Poetry Coalition in support of BLM
By: Iván Salí
In the midst of the social unrest ongoing all over the United States, the Poetry Coalition hosted “One Poem: A Protest Reading in Support of Black Lives,” a virtually-curated
event that featured the powerful voices of poets from all over the country. Each poet was invited by a poetry organization they may have participated in or where they are current members.
The Poetry Coalition is a network of 25+ poetry organizations under the Poetry Society of America. Part of their mission statement is “to encourage a deeper appreciation of the vitality and breadth of poetry in the cultural conversation.”
This virtual event helped to demonstrate the role of artists in times where political action is necessary. Poetry uplifts the spirits of those protesting on the streets and gives an insight into the issues affecting people’s lives on a daily basis.
Youth Speaks, an organization based in the Bay Area, CA, invited Prisca Afantchao to read her poem, “Black and Blue.” Afantchao is a first-generation Togolese-American poet and high school student based in Windsor, Connecticut. She was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Center Fighting Words contest and received two silver keys from the 2019 Scholastic Writing and Arts competition for her poetry collections.
Her poem evoked the constant fears that black kids go through for being themselves outdoors: “every trip outside is like a game of truth or dare/or cops and robbers/ or rather two truths and a lie/One: I am scared/ Two: I can get away unharmed as long as I run fast enough/Three: They are scared of me.”
Younger generations are growing up in a time where they are witnessing the failure of the systems in place that hurt their ability to safely attend school or even a playground. Aware at a much earlier age that they may face discrimination for the color of their skin. This condition greatly impacts the writings of upcoming poets of color.
Veteran poets were also featured in the reading, including Martin Espada, Kimberly Jae, Raina J. León, Terisa Siagatonu, Matthew Thompson, and many more.
From Los Angeles, poetry organization Beyond Baroque invited Sesshu Foster. Sesshu has taught composition and literature in East L.A. for thirty years and is the author of City of the Future (Kaya Press, 2018), winner of the CLMP Firecracker Award; World Ball Notebook (City Lights Publishers, 2009), winner of the American Book Award; and ELADATL: A History of the East Los Angeles Dirigible Air Transport Lines (City Lights Publishers, forthcoming 2021), a novel co-written with artist Arturo E. Romo.
Sesshu recited an anecdotal poem of a police arrest that occurred in a neighborhood of Los Angeles. His poem referenced the military-like tactics used by local law enforcement agencies. “Around 4:30 A.M. a loud speaker blared/ This is the Sheriffs Special Weapons unit.../Residents at Waverly Drive come out of the house with your hands in the air.../our neighbor’s house was ripped open/our neighbor is an activist.”
While the pre-recorded videos of the poets played, guests showed their support on the virtual chat and filled it with hearts and fireball emojis, words of encouragement for the poets, and even rewrote their favorite lines. Each poem read was a protest in its own; a call for change against racism and police brutality. You can watch the recorded reading on the Poetry Coalition YouTube channel and hopefully it will inspire you to write a poem seeking truth and justice!