The Best 100 African American Poems (*but I cheated)
Edited by Nikki Giovanni
Publication Date: November 1, 2010
Note: It includes one audio CD
As a teenager I remember taking my old tattered copy of Emily Dickinson’s Selected Poems everywhere I went. I loved opening a page and starting a new poem. The book really belonged to the school library but I checked out the book so much, that it felt like my own. I loved that edition so much that I recently bought the same edition that I carried around me years ago.
Now as an adult, I don’t read poetry enough. I don’t know what happened between my years as a teenager when I lived for the genre and becoming an adult, but poetry became something left behind. When Serena from Savvy Wit and Verse came up with her Fearless Poetry Challenge and asked all participants to read just one volume of poetry, I signed up. I want to go back to those years when I read poetry as much as I read novels.
I picked Nikki Giovanni’s anthology The 100* Best African American Poems (*but I cheated) because last year I read Giovanni’s Bicycles, and fell in love with her poetry. The anthology is really an anthology of more than one hundred poems that were collected and organized by Giovanni and several others. In her introduction Giovanni wrote,
African American poems are like all other poems: beautiful, loving, provocative, thoughtful, and all those other adjectives I can think of. Poems know no boundaries. They, like all Earth citizens, were born in some country, grew up on some culture, then in their blooming became citizens of the universe. Poems fly from heart to heart, head to head, to whisper a dream, to share a condolence, to congratulate, and to vow forever. The poems are true. They are translated and they are celebrated . . .
As much as I loved the introduction, I found this anthology to be a hit-and-miss. When it comes to poetry anthologies, I think that not only is the quality of poems important but the arrangement too. The anthology starts out with Margaret Walker’s “For My People” which is a great uplifting poem that reminds me of Joy Harjo’s poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here”. But the next poem “Leroy” by Amiri Baraka, has such a different tone from the first poem that I had to step back. It’s a poem filled with anger and that’s okay but I think the rhythm of an anthology should be smooth−each poem should flow into the next one. “Leroy” fits the anthology but it should be located with the poems of similar themes or tones.
The first half of the anthology was a little choppy with the lack of flow and clumps of poems by the same poets but the second half was almost perfect. After reading Reuben Jackson’s “Rochelle”, I loved it so much that I had to read it over again but this time aloud to really hear it.
i want to have
with your poems.
take the haiku you read
on a late night
plane to Chicago
sip bourbon with that villanelle
in a penthouse
on central park west.
your love for this city,
an apartment above
like a chandelier
for each word.
“Dancing Naked on the Floor” by Kwame Alexander was another favorite of mine. I love that I was able to find new poets to follow like Asha Bandele, Pamela Sneed, and Tonya Maria Matthews.
The anthology comes with a CD that readers can listen to but since I prefer to silently read most poetry, I didn’t listen to it. I wished that the anthology came with a small biography of each of the poets instead of just an index. Overall, I think the real strength of this anthology is that it’s the perfect place to introduce readers to new poets but this isn’t the anthology that I want to keep in my permanent collection.