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Lift Every Voice: Why African American Poetry Matters: Themes

This guide was created to support the Lift Every Voice initiative and grant. Tarrant County College is one of 49 institutions across the United States chosen to provide programming for this initiative.

Themes of Lift Every Voice

Download the Project Reader for essays, discussion questions, and more poems associated with each theme.

Themes

Poet and project contributor Kevin Young observes that "for African Americans, the very act of composing poetry proved a form of protest." What forms and voices does Black protest poetry include?

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The Black past has been both a subject and a muse for African American poets, who have lamented the foundational trauma of slavery and subsequent violence as they've celebrated the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, the election of the first Black president, and above all, the legacy of endurance, resistance, and grace of a culture that is central to American identity. How do African American poets make use of history?

 

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African American poets have asserted their blackness with joy, with defiance, and occasionally with bitterness at the pressure to downplay Black identity or hide it behind a protective mask. How do the voices and personas in African American poetry express the richness, depth, and variety of African American identity?

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Black poetry has deep kinships with performance: music, Black preaching, and "code switching" between forms of language and speech. Do Black poetry's links to music (spirituals, blues, jazz, hop-hop), to African cultures, and vernacular language have analogies in other American traditions? 

 

 

Primary Poems

  • Ma Rainey by Sterling A. Brown

 

 

 

 

 

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Ties of family and community are a perennial subject for poetry. How have they been manifested in the African American poetic tradition? In what ways have African American poets depicted Black communities and their rituals? What is universal in these poems, and what is expressive of the uniqueness of the African American experience?

 

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Additional Poems