A Black Poet Selects the Best American Poetry

The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry

Penguin has updated its essential reference on modern American poetry, and for the first time, it is edited by a black poet: Rita Dove. The volume went on sale Oct. 25. Here are some of the African Americans she selected.


James Weldon Johnson

Carl Van Vechten 1932

 "And God stepped out on space,/And he looked around and said:/I'm lonely—/I'll make me a world."

Excerpted from "The Creation"

Claude McKay

George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

"Applauding youths laughed with young prostitutes/And watched her perfect, half-clothed body sway;/Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes/Blown by black players upon a picnic day."

Excerpted from "The Harlem Dancer"

Jean Toomer


"Hair—braided chestnut,/coiled like a lyncher's rope"

Excerpted from "Portrait in Georgia"

Langston Hughes

Gordon Parks, 1942

"I am the darker brother./They send me to eat in the kitchen/When company comes."

Excerpted from "I, Too"

Robert Hayden


"this man, superb in love and logic, this man/shall be remembered."

Excerpted from "Frederick Douglass"

Gwendolyn Brooks

Miami Dade College

"Abortions will not let you forget./You remember the children you got that you did not get,/The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,/The singers and workers that never handled the air."

Excerpted from "The Mother"

Amiri Baraka

Z. Risasi Dais

"Calling black people/Calling all black people, man woman child/Wherever you are, calling you, urgent, come in"

Excerpted from "SOS"

Audre Lorde

K. Kendell

"I have not been able to touch the destruction/within me./But unless I learn to use/the difference between poetry and rhetoric/my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold"

Excerpted from "Power"

Lucille Clifton

St. Mary's College

"these hips are big hips/ they need space to/move around in."

Excerpted from "homage to my hips"


M.P. Sirait

"I'm fourteen. I'm a wind from nowhere./I can break your heart."

Excerpted from "The Kid"

Yusef Komunyakaa

Tom Wallace

"I close my eyes & can see/men drawing lines in the dust./America pushes through the membrane/ of mist & smoke, & I’m a small boy/again in Bogalusa."

Excerpted from "To Do Street"

Harryette Mullen

University of California Press

"If nature abhors an expensive appliance, why does the planet suck ozone?"

Excerpted from "Black Nikes"

Rita Dove

Fred Viebahn

"Along the Avenue, the cabs start up, heading/toward midtown; neon stutters into ecstasy"

Excerpted from "Claudette Colvin Goes to Work"

Natasha Trethewey

Jeff Etheridge

"the hot comb singeing her brow,/sweat glistening above her lips,/her face made strangely beautiful/as only suffering can do."

Excerpted from "Hot Combs"

Terrance Hayes

Yona Harvey

"in a room of smoke, nightclub tinkering with lovers in the dark, cigarette flares,/ gin & tonic. This is where the heartache/blooms."

Excerpted from "Lady Sings the Blues"

Share This Story