Race & Poetry

Every poet in America should read this essay by Major Jackson on the subject of race & poetry.

All poets (but especially white poets) should then go and write a poem addressing the issue of race.

Metrical poets should submit said poem to the Barefoot Muse, which barely ever gets any poems dealing with this subject, still one of the most profound cultural divisions facing the US.

Go on. I challenge you…


  1. I think poets should write about what they want to write about and I don’t think they have a “responsibility” to write about any particular issue. Indeed when poets try to write about a ‘big issue’, the results are usually clichéd and ultimately disastrous. Poems, in my experience, are more organic. They grow from an incident or image and themes emerge when these are explored.

    That said, I have a few poems that hinge around racial issues. One of them is metrical, but already published – it’s also printed at the end of an interview I did with Fusion View at http://www.fusionview.co.uk/2007/06/interview-with-poet-rob-mackenzie-2/

  2. Anna M Evans

    I understand what you mean, Rob. I suppose I was hoping that reading Major’s article would cause a few racially themed poems to grow or emerge. I admire the poem of yours you mention by the way, and think it illustrates the genre (if I can call it that) very well. That said, I’m not going to offer to re-print it as it is already available on the web. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I wasn’t thinking you’d publish it, Anna! It was just in case anyone was interested. I have another poem on a racial theme somewhere in the qarrtsiluni webzine – in the ‘education’ themed issue. These poems both began with specific incidents, although I’d say that imagination is as good as fact as far as generating poetry goes. But if I sat down and decided to write a poem ‘about racism’, I’d almost certainly write a load of tosh.

    But if anything happens to come out that way anytime in the next few years, I’ll definitely send it to you if it’s metrical.

  4. Anna M Evans

    Please do that, Rob!

    As for the writing of such poems, I think it’s partly a matter of white American poets giving themselves permission to allow incidents to generate poetry which touches on race, rather than suppressing the impulse and thinking they can’t or shouldn’t write such poems. I know all my poetry with a racial theme HAS also been generated by incidents (my daughter’s beaded hair, a conversation with my African-American hairdresser, my discovery of the Mercator-Peters map controversy.) However I doubt I would have written them if I hadn’t acquired a heightened awareness of the need for such poems at the Dodge Poetry Festival Consortium on Race, when Lucille Clifton exhorted more white poets to write poems with a racial theme, a call taken up by Major in his excellent essay.

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