These Queer Poets Expand on Black Life Through Their Work

Illustration: Angelica Alzona (G/O Media)

Editor’s note: For National Poetry Month, we’re featuring 37 up-and-coming black poets this week who we expect to do amazing work over the next decade. We grouped them by categories, though their works often blur boundaries and defy definitions. Monday’s theme was Black Regionalism, poets who look at black life and society through the prism of geographic regions or cultures. Today we present poets who center being black and queer and place white, cis, heteronormativity to a backdrop. Through this lens, these poets explore identity, violence, religion and body image among topics.

Angel Nafis

Photo: Twitter
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Twitter: @AngelNafis

Angel Nafis is the author of BlackGirl Mansion (Red Beard Press/ New School Poetics). The Cave Canem fellow is a recipient of the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. She is the East Coast half (Brooklyn) of The Other Black Girl Collective, a poetry touring partnership with Morgan Parker; and founder/curator of the Greenlight Bookstore Poetry Salon’s readings and writing workshops. Angel earned her Bachelor of Arts at Hunter College and is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in poetry at Warren Wilson College.

Excerpt from “Summoning her is summoning me

It’s hard for me to believe, but, believe

I do the morning passed me by without

a thought or surrender I am a miserable

Sunday shut-in thirst caked up

without a quench in sight until

Danez Smith

Screenshot: YouTube
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Twitter: @Danez_Smif

Danez Smith is H.I.V.-positive, genderqueer and referred to by plural pronouns, even at home in St. Paul, Minn. Their book, Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press), was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. They received fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, Cave Canem, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Danez is a member of the Dark Noise Collective and is the co-host of VS With Franny Choi, a podcast sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and Postloudness.

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Excerpt from “Tonight, in Oakland

I did not come here to sing a blues.

Lately, I open my mouth

& out comes marigolds, yellow plums.

I came to make the sky a garden.

Donika Kelly

Photo: Ladan Osman
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Twitter: @officialdonika

Donika Kelly is the author of BESTIARY (Graywolf), and winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize; a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry; and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. The collection was longlisted for the National Book Award and a finalist for a Publishing Triangle Award and a Lambda Literary Award. Donika holds an M.F.A. from the University of Texas and a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University. She is an assistant professor at Baruch College.

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Excerpt from “The moon rose over the bay. I had a lot of feelings.

I am taken with the hot animal

of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs

and have them move as I intend, though

my knee, though my shoulder, though something

Julian Randall

Photo: Nicholas Nichols
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Twitter: @JulianThePoet

Julian Randall is a Living Queer Black poet from Chicago. Julian is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and the Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Publishing Triangle. His first book of poetry, Refuse (Pitt) won a Cave Canem Poetry Prize and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award in Poetry. His poetry has been published in the New York Times Magazine, Ploughshares and POETRY. He holds an MFA in Poetry from Ole Miss.

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Excerpt from “(Title)”

How much I love a song which muscles the silence

How much I would give for a grammar of no slaves

O historical dead I am come from your unlanguaged apocalypse

like an ugly and deserved weather Watch me

eclipse their dark with my own Watch me citizen

the absence of your names

Rickey Laurentiis

Photo: Rachel Eliza Griffiths
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Twitter: @rckylrnts

In his first poetry collection, Boy with Thorn, Rickey Laurentiis flipped it. The typical white, male, heterosexual themes of Southern Gothic and Georgia O’Keefe were considered through the lens of slavery and queerness. The work was rewarded with the 2014 Cave Canem Poetry Prize (University of Pittsburgh Press). Rickey is the recipient of a 2014 fellowship from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Italy, a 2013 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a 2012 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship.

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Excerpt from “Black Gentleman

There are eyes, glasses even, but still he can’t see

what the world sees seeing him.

They know an image of him they themselves created.

Saeed Jones

Photo: Jon Premosch
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Twitter: @theferocity

Saeed Jones is co-host of Buzzfeed’s fun and lively morning show, AM to DM. However, his debut poetry collection was literally Prelude to Bruise and Saeed was named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award. The Memphis-born, Lewisville, Texas-breed poet’s work centers on the collision of sex, race and power and portrays manhood as “a brutal and artful performance.” He has received a Pushcart Prize and has also been awarded fellowships from Cave Canem and Queer/Art/Mentorship. He earned a B.A. at Western Kentucky University and an M.F.A. at Rutgers University-Newark.

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Excerpt from Kudzu

Soil recoils

from my hooked kisses.

Pines turn their backs

on me. They know


Yolanda Young is the author of the memoir, On Our Way to Beautiful, published by Random House in 2002. She founded @DorpieBooks to ensure space for black voices. She is also executive director of Lawyers of Color. Follow her on Twitter.

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