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Civil Rights Poetry

My friend and mentor Jeff Coleman had been working on his anthology of American Civil Rights Era poetry, Words of Protest, Words of Freedom, for so long I stopped asking him when it was coming out.

I also stopped asking Jeff partly because there was a “time problem” with this anthology: there was no other anthology like it in print and every delay seemed to exasperate Jeff an account of this. There have already been several anthologies of anti-Iraq/Afghanistan war poetry published in the last decade and yet in 30+ years after the height of the Civil Rights movement, no major publisher had bothered to recognize what was a vibrant, sizable body of work. And because I stopped asking, I missed when Words was published–last year.

I’m glad it’s here now and that Jeff was the one to bring it into the world through his incredible energy and patience. Still waiting for Jeff’s anthology in the mail, but the ToC reads as generous–bringing together writers who dedicated their energy to the movement and members of the movement who expressed their political energy through writing. It reveals threads to follow toward the reconsideration of facets of the work of major writers and the rediscovery of writers whose output was tied to the movement. Here’s a slice of the ToC–poems in response to the assassination of Malcolm X:

“Prophets were ambushed as they spoke” The Assassination of Malcolm X, 21 February 1965  155
A Poem for Black Hearts / Amiri Baraka  158
For Malcolm: After Mecca / Gerald W. Barrax  159
Malcolm X (for Dudley Randall) / Gwendolyn Brooks  159
Judas / Karl Carter  160
malcolm / Lucille Clifton  161
El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz / Robert Hayden  161
Portrait of Malcolm X (for Charles Baxter), Etheridge Knight  163
Malcolm X—An Autobiography / Larry Neal  164
At That Moment / Raymond Patterson  166
If Blood Is Black Then Spirit Neglects My Unborn Son / Conrad Kent Rivers  167
malcolm / Sonia Sanchez  168
For Malcolm Who Walks in the Eyes of Our Children / Quincy Troupe  169
For Malcolm X / Margaret Walker  171
That Old Time Religion / Marvin X  171
Filed under: Book Notes, Friends

About the Author

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Joe Hall is the author of five books of poetry, including Someone's Utopia (2018) and Fugue & Strike (forthcoming). His poems, reviews, and scholarship have appeared in Poetry Daily, The Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, Postcolonial Studies, Peach Mag,, PEN America Blog, Poetry Northwest, Ethel Zine, Gulf Coast, Best Buds! Collective, and Eighteenth-Century Fiction. He has taught poetry workshops for teachers, teens, and workers through Just Buffalo and the WNYCOSH Worker Center.

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