Better Poems for Ferguson

The Paris Review, in a presumed effort at topicality, recently published Frederick Seidel’s The Ballad of Ferguson, Missouri – a kind of semi-ironic, chilly, not very good poem about the unrest in Seidel’s home state. And they are, rightfully, getting some blowback for it. Here’s hoping they hear the criticism, think about it, and publish something better in the coming months. Or how about several somethings better? How about a whole issue devoted to Black voices? Now that would be a thing, Paris Review.

Some have  said that white people shouldn’t say anything at all about Ferguson. Then there’s Danez Smith’s Open Letter to White Poets, which takes the exact opposite tack. If you are a white poet, there might not be a perfect solution. But here are some things:

1) Listen, listen, and listen again before speaking.

2) Just sit with your discomfort; it will prove instructive.

And 3) For God’s sake, don’t write a poem about how you’ll never have to worry about your children being gunned down in the street. We know already.

Without further ado: recent poems by poets of color (ie, the Paris Review Antidote)

Roll Call for Michael Brown by Jason McCall

alternate names for black boys by Danez Smith

not an elegy for Mike Brown by Danez Smith

Rules for My Future Son Should I Have One by LaToya Jordan

How Do I Love Thee? A love poem from the Ferguson, MO police dept to Black residents: An informal emulation of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43 by Aya de Leon and Like flowers in the sky by Vanessa Huang

I Feel Most Colored When I Am Thrown Against A Sharp White Background: An Elegy by Morgan Parker

Sonnet Consisting of One Law by Lynne Thompson

a work in progress by Mahogany L. Browne

Survival Guide For Animals Born in Captivity by Camille Rankine

How to Not Get Killed by the NYPD by Metta Sama

The Gun Joke by Jamaal May

Two Poems to #StandWithFerguson by Nancy Bevilaqua and D.M. Aderibigbe

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut on Tumblr

And this Twitter feed is basically functioning as one long poem at the moment. (Dec 3 11pm)

Poet Claudia Rankine on the violent deaths of black men at PBS NewsHour (Rankine reads an excerpt from Citizen). And Using poetry to uncover the moments that lead to racism (video).

bitter crop by Kelli Stevens Kane

Transition Magazine at the Hutchins Center I Can’t Breathe series

Winter Tangerine Review’s Hands Up Don’t Shoot edition

Posts of interest

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut, But Is America Listening? by Minal Hajratwala

The Spontaneous Overflow of Powerful Feelings: Poetry as a Political Response by Jonathon Sturgeon at Flavorwire

Teaching Ferguson and Failing (to whom I owe many of the above links) by Caolan Madden at Weird Sister

Open Letter to White Poets by Danez Smith at Squandermania and Other Foibles

An Open Letter to the Paris Review and After the Ballad by Shannon Barber at About that Writing thing

Poems That Are Better Than “The Ballad of Ferguson, Missouri” at Miss Fickle Reader

The Stand With Ferguson series at Apogee

The Bearing Witness to Ferguson series at Entropy

After The Ferguson Decision, A Poem That Gives Name To The Hurt by Syreeta McFadden at NPR

Who’s Writing the Real “Ballad of Ferguson, Missouri”? by Annie Finch at HuffPost

If you’d like to try your hand at writing an actual ballad to Ferguson, see The Real Ballad of Ferguson Missouri Ballad Challenge. (Deadline Dec 15.)

I’ll continue to update as I find more.


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