Honoring Black History Month with Poetry

Black poets have played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of American poetry. In honor of Black History Month, we’re sharing a list of just some of the 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival videos to revisit or watch for the first time this February, including sessions curated by Cave Canem and the Academy of American Poets.  

Visit www.dodgepoetryfestival.org to register and gain access to all of the Festival session videos by paying what you can. Educators and students register for free.  

Once registered, you can find all the Festival readings and conversations organized by the day they aired.  (We’re working on an even more user-friendly website with more search features. Stay tuned!) 

A screenshot from the DPF2020 session “Black Futures, Black Pasts,” presented by Cave Canem and featuring poets Yona Harvey, Cherene Sherrard and Kush Thompson.

2020 Dodge Poetry Festival Sessions to watch during Black History Month (and every other month of the year)

THE SKIN YOU’RE LIVING IN: Reginald Dwayne Betts, Kyle Dargan, Cornelius Eady, Tyehimba Jess, Cyrée Jarelle Johnson. Moderated by khalil murrell (Aired on Sunday, October 25)  

In “Blink Your Eyes,” Sekou Sundiata’s poem about a traffic stop, he writes that what might happen in the blink of an eye, “all depends on the skin you’re living in.” Poets Reginald Dwayne Betts, Kyle Dargan, Cornelius Eady, Tyehimba Jess and Cyrée Jarelle Johnson explore questions about the evolution of their aesthetics, how they tie into issues of identity, and how they do or don’t feel compelled to write as “black male poets” in this time. Moderated by khalil murrell. 

BLACK FUTURES, BLACK PASTS presented by Cave Canem: Yona Harvey, Cherene Sherrard. Moderated by Kush Thompson (Aired on October 25)  

Yona Harvey’s You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love investigates Black futures and possibilities via the supernatural and Afro-futurism, while Cherene Sherrard uses one of the earliest cookbooks published by an African American woman to memorialize the past in her newest poetry collection, Grimoire. Presented by Cave Canem, in “Black Futures, Black Pasts,” Harvey and Sherrard read from their recent books and talk with Cave Canem fellow Kush Thompson about centering Black womanhood in their work. Introduction by Malcolm Tariq, Programs and Communications Manager, Cave Canem. 

POETS FORUM: POETRY AND POEMS IN SUPPORT OF BLACK LIVES: Kwame Dawes, Terrance Hayes (Aired on Friday, October 30)  

Academy Chancellors Kwame Dawes and Terrance Hayes continue their long-standing commitment to celebrating the value and persistent relevance of art, and especially poetry in our world today. For both poets, the poet’s obligation to record, to leave a record of experiences (ordinary, human and sincere) and of their bodies’ existence in the historical moment is as radical and revolutionary and urgent as any protest poem might be. 

AMERICAN POETRIESCornelius Eady, Nikky Finney, Edward Hirsch, Paisley Rekdal. Moderated by Martin J. Farawell (Aired on Saturday, October 24)  

Adrienne Rich wrote that there is no such thing as an “American Poetry.” Instead, there are American Poetries—so many divergent schools that no single style or aesthetic can be singled out as the definitively “American” one. Cornelius Eady, Nikky Finney, Edward Hirsch and Paisley Rekdal consider what we gain from this diversity and by listening more closely to each other. Moderated by Martin J. Farawell. 

I AM NOT FREE WHILE ANY WOMAN IS UNFREE: Vievee Francis, Paisley Rekdal, Emily Skaja, Monica Sok. Moderated by Naomi Extra (Aired on Sunday, October 25) 

Poet Audre Lorde once said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” Almost forty years later, her words are still poignant and relevant. What does it look like when women writers are in community with each other, writing for and with each other? How does this continue to transform the poems that they and others write, the canon, the poetry community and other communities? Participating poets include Vievee Francis, Paisley Rekdal, Emily Skaja and Monica Sok. Moderated by Naomi Extra. 

ON CRAFT: Vievee Francis (Aired on Thursday, October 29) 

Vievee Francis considers and discusses questions related to the craft of making poems. What is the larger purpose of craft? What are the rewards of trying to master it? How do work schedules, patterns of revision, the uses of traditional forms, the subtleties of line breaks or the place of sound and phrasing in composition come into play when considering craft?

Tyehimba Jess sharing poems in his reading aired on Thursday, October 29, 2020


Main Stage reading with Reginald Dwayne Betts and Nikky Finney (Aired on Saturday, October 31) 

Main Stage Reading with Cornelius Eady (Aired on Friday, October 30) 

Main Stage Reading with Tyehimba Jess (Aired on Thursday, October 29) 

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