Poetry Book Club Pop Culture

Poetry can be so much more when you stop reading the white male canon

We’re coming to the end of National Poetry Month – a celebration that will have been marked by those who enjoy poetry and passed by blindly by those who don’t. And despite being a Lit Major, I used to be one of the latter.

At school, we were forced to study the works of Wordsworth, analyze Shakespeare’s sonnets, and read poetry from World War II. The western canon of “dead white men” they always warned you about? Completed it, babe.

So, when I first went to university and saw a compulsory poetry module, I panicked – I certainly didn’t choose to study English Literature as a degree because of my incredibly limited and incredibly white male experience with poetry in high school. 

But that poetry module at university knocked me for six. Instead of being forced to study poems from an exclusive list of white western authors, we were actively encouraged to read outside the western canon. Even if we still wanted to study the more “traditional” poets, we were told to read criticism that addressed important race and gender issues I hadn’t even realized were present in the works.

The poem that had the biggest effect on me was “Strange Fruit,” a poem originally written by Jewish schoolteacher Abel Meeropol in 1937, and then performed as a song by Billie Holiday in 1939. Meeropol wrote “Strange Fruit” as a response to the horrific lynchings that took place across the American South; the strange fruit of the poem’s title refers to the lynching victims who were strung up from trees by white supremacists. 

I had no idea poetry could heave up such raw emotion in me – I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks.  

That first-year module taught me that poetry wasn’t just about the poems I had studied at school. It sounds silly, but I genuinely believed poetry was just Elizabethan sonnets we deemed too complicated to enjoy, and poems about British Romanticism that detailed the beautiful birds and the breathtaking bees together in the darling British countryside – the only remotely interesting poem I studied at school was about young chimney sweeps in the Industrial Revolution, and even then, its author, William Blake, was still part of this restricted western canon.

I soon learned that reading poetry didn’t have to be a chore, and my favorite poems taught me something, either about the world or about myself. I devoured poems about the harrowing legacies of British colonialism written by first-generation settlers, and greedily consumed creations about the complexities of cultural identity written by The Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand.


My favorite poetry collection was about the political intricacies of Post-Apartheid South Africa and the dangerous reality of being queer in the country today; I will recommend Koleka Putuma’s “Collective Amnesia” to everyone I meet, partly because her poetry is a powerhouse force for modern feminism, but also because she uses Beyoncé lyrics in her poems. Enough said, really.

As I was forced to look outside the tiny box I had put poetry in, I realized that it was never actually in a box at all. And without being too Love Actually, I realized poetry was, in fact, all around us.

Love it or hate it, the rise of Instagram poetry – including household names like Lang Leav, Rupi Kaur, Amanda Lovelace, and my favorite, Nikita Gill – was groundbreaking in introducing people who supposedly didn’t like poetry, to a new style of this genre. Even Beyoncé added poetry to her visual album (and greatest ever artistic creation), Lemonade – citing work from the Somali-British poet, Warsan Shire in the transitions between songs.

Yes, that’s Shire’s poetry at the start of Hold Up, taken from her poem, “Denial.” And yes, when my university supervisor told me she was actually good friends with Shire, I cannot tell you how much I screamed.

And poetry is still all around us. After reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb” at Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration in January this year, the first National Youth Poet laureate Amanda Gorman gained over 2 million followers on Instagram. Her poem about her hopes for a divided America to come together once more was especially raw given that violent Trump supporters had stormed the United States Capitol just earlier that same month.

Through poetry, Gorman was able to put into words how America was feeling at that moment, as well as the rest of the world.

Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with enjoying the more traditional poets: Tennyson, Shakespeare, Wordsworth – they’re still great in their own right. And if I’m honest, I had a lot of fun squawking like an albatross when reading Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner when I was 13 in high school. 

However, when I opened my eyes to everything poetry could be outside of the western canon, I realized how much it could teach me about the world, and how much I could learn from it as well.

I promise you, it’s not just dead white guys. 

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

Poetry Books Pop Culture

End National Poetry Month strong with 5 women poets in translation

April is surely the month to celebrate for literature lovers. This year marks the 25th anniversary of National Poetry Month since its first inception by the Academy of American Poets. This month also hosts UNESCO’s World Book Day, which falls on the 23rd of the month. As we enter its final week, it’s time to reacquaint ourselves with the hypnotic power of poetry, one of the oldest art forms in the world that is still very much alive today. 

While Anglophone poetry has found continuity and relevance globally in pop culture through new forms such as spoken word, hip-hop, and even taking center stage during the recent Inauguration, non-Anglophone poetry has not received the same amount of exposure in the global scene. Much of this is due to linguistic imperialism, which demarcates readership based on dominant and marginalized languages. 

I certainly wasn’t acquainted with poetry outside of my native tongue and the English language until university. Reading works translated from other languages made me realize the importance of literary translation and its role in ferrying ideas between specific cultures. Little did I know, that experience would plant the seed for my current journey as a translator of poetry.

Whether you’re a seasoned reader or a newcomer to poetry, here is a list of five exceptional women poets in translation to help you expand your reading list:

1. Alejandra Pizarnik 

Hide me from this battle with words

and put out the furies of my elemental body

– from “Destructions” in Extracting the Stone of Madness, translated by Yvette Siegert

In her short but fulminant life, Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik composed scores of hidden treasures that have only just recently surfaced in the English language, thanks to the translation work undertaken by New Directions Publishing. Born to Polish Jewish immigrant parents in Buenos Aires, Pizarnik’s literary life took flight in Paris, the city she imagined would bring her success. The reality was quite the opposite; she lived in the dark margins of the City of Lights, in poverty and anguish. Undeterred by her circumstances, she wrote and wrote vociferously amid bouts of depression and schizophrenia. 

The resulting work is direct, unflinching, and non-elliptical, best represented in Extracting the Stone of Madness, translated into English by Yvette Siegert. I’ve never encountered a unique volume such as this, one that showcases a voice that is inimitable in all its bright melancholy, underscored with moments of lyrical tenderness. This work firmly cements Pizarnik’s status as a literary giant in the great pantheon of Latin American literature. Sadly, Pizarnik ended her own life in 1972 at age 36 from a drug overdose after struggling with long bouts of depression.

2. Forough Farrokhzad

I don’t repent. 

It’s as if my heart flows

on the other side of time.

– from In Night’s Cold Streets, translated by Sholeh Wolpé

I often bristle at the term “Iran’s Sylvia Plath” that is imposed upon her by Anglophone readers, as Farrokhzad’s poetic voice is distinctively hers, one that could have only germinated from her milieu. She was the mirror that gazed back into centuries of traditions in Persian poetry that had long been the domain of men and their proclivities. Her stunning autobiographical debut in 1954 at age 19—an unapologetic confession of an adulterous affair, no less—would come at a high price to her personal life.

It’s easy to draw parallels between Farrokhzad and Plath: both met death at an untimely age, and both struggled with the conception of the idealized self in their art. In Farrokhzad’s case, hers was a revelatory persona imbued within the poetry of protest. Between lines that speak unapologetically of female sin, defiance, longing, and aspirations, Farrokhzad mastered the unfaltering voice of the feminine iconoclast, even after decades of staunch censorship.

Watch a reading of Farrokhzad’s poems by poet and translator Sholeh Wolpé below.

3. Hélène Cixous

And I? I drink, I burn, I gather dreams. 

And sometimes, I tell a story.

– from The Book of Promethea, translated by Betsy Wing

If Plath and Farrokhzad were embodiments of desire’s relation to language, the leading postmodern literary theorist Hélène Cixous perfected it into a corpus that would forever alter what I would come to understand as ‘the writing woman’. To mention Cixous is to summon her gorgon of écriture feminine (“women’s writing”) as she coined it in her seminal essay, The Laugh of the Medusa. The bold literary call to arms became a new manifesto for women writing the body. “I, too, overflow,” Cixous wrote, “my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of songs.”


Much like her declaration of the body, Cixous’s poetry interrogates exclusionary structures that have kept women’s writing at the periphery. But she also writes of love, the risk one takes when being in love, and the power it acquires in coloring our everyday presence. This theme is most prominent in The Book of Promethea. Hers is a landscape where the poetic self cannot harmonize with the imposing structure of politicized language, and therefore the way forward is a reinvention in her own terms.

4. Hiromi Itō

The epithet of ‘shamaness’ precedes Hiromi Itō, one of Japan’s most brazen poets who is boundless in her artistry. Having witnessed her performance at a literary festival, I immediately devoured videos of her past performances and poetry excerpts available in English. 

Moving with the gaiety and cunning of the kitsune, a mythical Japanese fox, Itō builds upon the rich tradition of itinerant storytellers in medieval Japan in high-octane performances that simply cannot be captured on the printed page. In a society where speaking about the bodily functions of women is still seen as transgressive, Itō writes of childbirth, stillbirth, filicide, broken genealogies, and menstruation, often using clever puns and multiple characters to narrate her stories.

Watch her powerful performance on menstruation below, which plays on the Japanese term for ‘lunar cycle’, thus linking periods with the waxing and waning phases of the moon.

5. Maria Stepanova

In place of a memory I did not have, of an event I did not witness, my memory worked over someone else’s story; it rehydrated the driest little note and made of it a pop-up cherry orchard.

– from  In Memory of Memory, translated by Sasha Dugdale

Nothing has quite delighted me more than discovering the works of Maria Stepanova, a Russian poet, essayist, and journalist who has lived in Moscow for most of her life. Her artistic coming-of-age coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 90s, which heavily underscores her poetic outlook. 

Amid the roaring chaos of the period, Stepanova wove a space where she could intervene between politics and memory, one she termed postmemory. Her body of poetry is brilliant in its expression of the humdrum and peculiar in the post-Soviet environment. However, her poetic prose is where she shines as a memoirist in the truest sense: one who reconstructs memory between recollections and falsehoods.

“Poetry’s work is the clarification and magnification of being,” writes Jane Hirshfield, distinguished American poet, and literary translator. Like many others who retreat into solitary reading to seek comfort during the pandemic, these authors offered vast topographies that nurture the delicate exchange between language and emotion. If you’re currently on a reading binge, what better way to cap off a literary month than reading fearless women who write?

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

Shopping Books Poetry Books Pop Culture

21 Black female poets to add to your bookshelf

Ok, so you posted a black square on Instagram. You retweeted an Angela Davis quote. You ordered How to Be an Anti-Racist from a Black indie bookstore. You signed a petition. Now, what else are you doing to promote and spread Black art instead of just Black suffering and struggle? Black female poets have been dominating the literary scene for centuries. These are just 21 of the thousands of Black women who are writing about race and social justice.

1. Morgan Parker

Poet Morgan Parker poses for a photo.
[Image description: Poet Morgan Parker poses for a photo.] Via Eliza Griffiths
Morgan Parker (b. 1987) is the author of three poetry collections Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night (2015), There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce (2017), and Magical Negro (2019), the winner of the National Books Critics Circle. Her poems intertwine contemporary pop culture references, Black history, and her personal life. In an interview with The Paris Review, Parker articulated her commitment to capturing the Black experience in her writing: “I am hyperaware of patterns and repetition in society. The way that history repeats and rewrites. It’s a way of connecting with other people who are here, and also with people who are no longer here.” 

2. Jamila Woods

Image description: Musician and poet Jamila Woods stands for a photo.
[Image description: Musician and poet Jamila Woods stands for a photo.] Via Zoe Rain
Jamila Woods (b. 1989) is both a singer-songwriter and a poet. Once described as a “modern-day Renaissance woman, Woods has released two albums titled Heavn (2016) and Legacy! Legacy! (2019) where each song is named after and dedicated to prominent artists of color. Her poetry has been featured in Muzzle, Third World Press, and Poetry magazine. Woods serves as the Associate Artistic Director of the non-profit youth organization called Young Chicago Authors and helps design curriculum for Chicago Public Schools.

3. Aja Monet

[Imgae description: Slam poet Aja Monet smiles softly for a photograph.] Via
Aja Monet (b. 1987) is a surrealist blues poet and community activist from Brooklyn, NY. She is the youngest poet to ever have won the Nuyorican Poets Café Grand Slam Champion, winning the competition at only 19. Monet was awarded the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award for Poetry in 2019. Her first poetry collection, titled My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter, dives into the traumas and passions of Black women during their battles for liberation. Monet founded “Voices: Poetry for the People” and “facilitate workshops in collaboration with Dream Defenders and Community Justice Project in South Florida.”

4. Maya Angelou

A photograph of Maya Angelou wearing gold hoop earrings.
[Image description: A photograph of Maya Angelou wearing gold hoop earrings.] Via Dwight Carter
Born in St. Louis, Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was a prominent civil rights activist, poet, essayist, movie director, actress, composer, and more. Angelou joined the Harlem Writers Guild in the 1950s. She worked for both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X during the Civil Rights Movement. Her poetry collection Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, which was published (1971) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1972. Angelou was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010.

5. Wanda Coleman

Wanda Coleman pictured with her hand on her face.]
[Image description: Wanda Coleman pictured with her hand on her face.] Via The Los Angeles Times
Known as the unofficial poet laureate of Los Angeles, Wanda Coleman (1946-2013) is the author of more than 20 books of poetry, including Mercurochrome, a finalist for the National Book Award in 2001. Coleman’s poetry touches upon Black poverty, womanhood, and racial inequalities in Los Angeles. She received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the California Arts Council, and won an Emmy for her scriptwriting.

6. Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks in front of her typewriter and bookshelf.
[Image description: Gwendolyn Brooks in front of her typewriter and bookshelf.] Via Getty Images
Arguably the most renowned Black poet in American history, Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) was born grew up in the South Side of Chicago. Brooks won a Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for her poetry collection Annie Allen, which details the life of a young Black girl growing up in Chicago, making her the first Black author to win a Pulitzer Prize. Brooks was chosen as the first Black Poet Laureate of the United States for the 1985-1986 term and was the first Black woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts in 1976.

7. Lucille Clifton

Poet Lucille Clifton looks off to the side while being photographed.
[Image description: Poet Lucille Clifton looks off to the side while being photographed.] Via Afro American Newspapers
Lucille Clifton’s poetic talent (1936-2019) was first featured in Langston Hughes’s renowned anthology The Poetry of the Negro (1970). Clifton was the first poet to have two poetry books chosen for finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969-1980 (1987), and Next: New Poems (1987). Her poetry celebrates and discusses the Black female body, motherhood, and family life.

8. Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith smiles for a picture.
[Image description: Tracy K. Smith smiles for a picture.] Via Rachel Eliza and Blue Flower Arts.
Tracy K. Smith served as the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States from 2017-2019 and has published four poetry collections, including Life On Mars, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2011. Her poetry has been lauded for its incorporation of magical realism, space, and science to articulate her grief, mundane experiences, desire, and dystopian fears.

9. Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde stands in front of a blackboard that reads "women are powerful and dangerous."
[Image description: Audre Lorde stands in front of a blackboard that reads “women are powerful and dangerous.”] Via Robert Alexander for Getty Images
A self-labeled “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde (1934–1992) was a poet, essayist, and feminist theorist. Her poetry reflects her work as an activist during the Civil Rights Movement, Black Lesbianism, and her rage towards the injustices against Black people. An advocate for intersectionality, Lorde published several essays and theories on the Black female experiences, the power of sexuality, and differences between men and women. 

10. Claudia Rankine

Poet Claudia Rankine and dog Sammy at her home.
[Image description: Poet Claudia Rankine and dog Sammy at her home.] Via Ricardo DeAratanha for the Los Angeles Times
Claudia Rankine (b. 1963) is the author of five collections of poetry, two plays, and an array of essays. Her book Citizen: An American Lyric is a genre-defying collection of poetry and reflection that incorporates images and videos to reflect the violence and microaggressions faced by Black Americans. Citizen won the NAACP Image Award in poetry and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2015.

11. Rita Dove

Poet Rita Dove rests her hands on her face in front of a bookshelf.
[Image description: Poet Rita Dove rests her hands on her face in front of a bookshelf.] Via Literary Arts
Rita Dove (b. 1952) was the second Black woman after Gwendolyn Brooks to win the Pulitzer Prize for her collection Thomas and Beulah, a semi-fictionalized poetical account of her maternal grandparents. Dove’s poetry is both minuscule and omnipresent. Her writing traverses through the banal aspects of her daily life while also providing a reflection on racial and social injustices. 

12. Natasha Tretheway

Poet Natasha Tretheway.
[Image description: Poet Natasha Tretheway.] Via Nancy Crampton
The Poet Laureate of the United States in both 2012 and 2013, Natasha Tretheway (b. 1966) is a contemporary poet and professor. Tretheway is of mixed race and her parents were married illegally in the 1960s due to anti-miscegenation laws. Tretheway turned to poetry when her mother was murdered in 1986. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for her poetry collection Native Guard, an elegiac reflection of her mother’s life, the racial history of slavery in the South, the Civil War, and her childhood. 

13. Anne Spencer

Anne Spencer in her wedding dress.
[Image description: Anne Spencer in her wedding dress.] Via the Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum
Anne Spencer (1882-1975) was the daughter of former slaves and Harlem Renaissance poet and activist. She was the first Black person and Virginian to have her poetry included in the Norton Anthology of American Poetry. She was friends and worked with authors such as Langston Hughes and W.E.B. DuBois, and founded the Lynchburg chapter of the NAACP with James Weldon Johnson. Her poetry consists of themes of religion, race, the South, and her relationship with the natural world.

14. Nikki Giovanni

A photo of poet Nikki Giovanni in a red scarf.
[Image description: A photo of poet Nikki Giovanni in a red scarf.] Via Nikki Giovanni
Nikki Giovanni (b. 1943) has been awarded for both her poetry and her activism. As one of the most critical and influential poets of the Black Arts Movement, she was awarded the Langston Hughes Medal and the NAACP Image Award. Her writing has been described as “epitomizing the defiant, unapologetically political, unabashedly Afrocentric, BAM ethos.”

15. Sonia Sanchez

Poet Sonia Sanchez poses with a book in hand.
[Image description: Poet Sonia Sanchez poses with a book in hand.] Via Richmond Free Press
Sonia Sanchez (b. 1934) was another prominent figure of the Black Arts Movement. She was awarded the Robert Frost Medel in 2001 for her distinguished service to American Poetry. She is the author of more than a dozen poetry books, including Does your house have lions? (1995), which was nominated for the NAACP Image and National Book Critics Circle Award.

16. Elizabeth Alexander

Poet and professor Elizabeth Alexander while being awarded the W.E.B DuBois medal at Harvard University.
[Image description: Poet and professor Elizabeth Alexander while being awarded the W.E.B DuBois medal at Harvard University.] Via The Boston Globe
Elizabeth Alexander (b. 1962), as a contemporary poet, essayist, and playwright. She serves as the President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and a Professor of Poetry at both Yale and Columbia University. Her poetry collection The Sublime (2005) was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, and the themes in work include motherhood, political history, and race. Alexander wrote and read a poem for President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

17. Yona Harvey

Poet Yona Harvey looks down while being photographed.]
[Image description: Poet Yona Harvey looks down while being photographed.] Via the University of Arizona Poetry Center
A poet, professor, and comic writer, Yona Harvey (b. 1974) became one of the first Black women to write for Marvel comics. Harvey describes her artistic interest in “the diverse lives and experiences of Black American women through literature…the visibility and invisibility of Black women, our mental health and self-care, and the evidence of our imaginations in society.” She is the author of Hemming the Water (2013), a finalist for the 2014 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in poetry.

18. Margaret Walker

Poet Margaret Walker laughs and looks to the side.
[Image description: Poet Margaret Walker laughs and looks to the side.] Via Poetry Foundation
Margaret Walker (1915-1998) was part of the Chicago Black Renaissance. Her poetry collection For My People (1942) won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition, making her the first black woman to win a National Writing Prize. She is also the author of Jubilee (1966), a novel that details the life of a slave family during the Civil War.

19. Porsha Olayiwola

Slam poet Porsha Olayiwola.
[Image description: Slam poet Porsha Olayiwola.] Via the Boston Globe
Porsha Olayiwola is the current Poet Laureate of Boston, Massachusetts. She is the 2014 individual World Poetry Slam champion and the 2015 National Poetry Slam champion. Olayiowla’s poetry uses “afro-futurism and surrealism to examine historical and current issues in the Black, woman, and queer diasporas.”  She is the artistic director at MassLEAP, a literary youth organization, and published her first poetry collection i shimmer sometimes, too in 2019.

20. June Jordan

A photo of poet and Civil Rights activist June Jordan.
[Image description: A photo of poet and Civil Rights activist June Jordan.] Via the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.
June Jordan (1936-2002) was a bisexual, Jamaican-American poet and activist. She was committed to using Black English and vernacular in her poetry. Her writing encompasses themes of family, sexuality, divorce, and oppression. Jordan was also a feminist theorist and wrote children’s books that touched upon race and social justice.

21. Eve L. Ewing

[Image description: Poet and sociologist Eve Ewing clasps her hands together for a photo.] Via Daniel Barlow/The Poetry Foundation
Eve L. Ewing (b. 1968) is a poet, visual artist, and a sociologist of education. Ewing has been a Pushcart Prize nominee and a finalist for the Pamet River Prize. She has published two poetry collections, Electric Arches (2017) and 1919 (2019), based on the Chicago Race Riots of 1919. She is a writer for the Marvel comic Ironheart and is the author of Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side, a sociological study of public school closures in Chicago.

From sonnets on Black freedom to free verse about womanhood and sexuality, these poets possess a robust and passionate lexicon of emotions and subjects. The range of their artistic capability is incredible, and their grandeur has often been left out of history books. We should forever be celebrating these Black female poets for their impact on Black liberation, and for the sheer beauty of their lyrics.

History Poetry Forgotten History Lost in History

You probably don’t know about Hettie Jones, a crusading Beat poet

You’ve heard of a Jack Kerouac, but have you ever heard of a Hettie Jones?

The Beat Literary Movement of the 1950s is coined for its explicit subject matter and bohemian lifestyle. Americans in the 1950’s lived in largely suburban towns and felt threatened by things like communism. Men went to work in suits and women stayed home to cook, clean, and tend to the children.

The rebel, beatnik, group of authors that made up the Beat Generation were iconoclastic. Much of their work explored and influenced American culture and politics in the post-war era. They experimented with form and structure while writing about sex, drugs, and religion. Traditional literary houses rejected them and looked down on them as a group as being defiant, untalented, and unprofessional. 

I think that their being unconventional was the whole point, though.

They were the antithesis of mainstream American life.

They wanted to publish anything that was deemed inappropriate by society. These people were tired of the routine, and frankly, felt beaten down by the conservative lifestyle that they were stuck in. They were highly controversial in that they were the antithesis of mainstream American life and writing. Many of their works of poetry and prose focused on shifts of consciousness and escaping “squareness.” The stereotype around the Beats is that they were not in favor of what they considered to be straight jobs. Instead, they lived together, packed into small and dirty apartments, sold drugs, had sex with each other, and committed crimes. They are also known for exploring homosexuality, which was a highly taboo topic in 1950’s America.

Though they set many precedents together, the Beats still succumbed to the blatant sexism of the time. Most, if not all, of the women involved in the Beat literary movement were overshadowed by their male counterparts for no particular reason other than gender. These women were just as intelligent and qualified to question society as the beatnik men who have become well-known poets and activists.

Search and buy domains from Namecheap. Lowest prices!

One of the most iconic, and downplayed, female poets of that time who deserves righted acknowledgment is Hettie Jones. 

Hettie Jones published 23 books- and yet, we forgot her

Hettie Jones is most known for her marriage to the famous Beat Poet Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones). Few people know that Hettie helped run Totem Press, one of the more important beat publishers, along with her husband. She went on to publish about 23 books, one being a memoir of her time spent with Amiri and the rest of the Beats titled, How I Became Hettie Jones (1990). She has also written for many prestigious journals, lectured writing across America, and began the literary magazine “Yugen.”

Hettie is one of my favorite poets, so I think that her writing deserved to be at the forefront of the Beat movement, right there with the boys who got so much praise for their work. 

Hettie’s writing is rooted in practical idealism. She left her family home in Long Island to go to college and to fully discover herself. When she graduated in 1955, she never turned back, and moved to New York City. She met Amiri while working at The Record Changer, a jazz magazine. He was a young, black poet with just as much intelligence and intensity as Hettie. They quickly fell in love and moved in together. They would go to poetry readings at cafes and bohemian bars, where they met many of the other Beat poets.

Hettie deserved to be at the forefront of the Beat movement.

When the pair founded their own magazine, they published the writings of many of the iconic beat players who could not find a home for their writing in the traditional sphere. Hettie was in charge of editing the works that were to be published in the magazine. It was here that she honed her craft and found power in the refined writing that makes her work stand out from the rest. 

By 1960, Hettie and Amiri had two children, were married, and lived in New York City. Being a biracial family, though, countless bigoted remarks were directed towards them regardless of the Beat scene. Hettie was on the receiving end of most of these cold stares and was able to see the world through the eyes of her husband and children. This affected her incredibly and eventually became a recurring theme in her writing.  

When Amiri became tightly involved with the Black Power movement, he was criticized for having a white wife. They divorced in 1968. Hettie thrived on her own though and made a living with her children while teaching and editing. Her separation from her husband also gave Hettie an outlet to speak up and finally publish works of her own. She has been quoted to say, “Without a him in the house, there was more space/time for her, and I tried to redefine the way a woman might use it.” 

To this day, Hettie’s writing is compassionate. She writes about her own experiences in a compelling manner while weaving in the issues that she cares about. Currently, Hettie lives in New York City, and is a writer and lecturer. In addition, she runs a writing workshop at the New York State Correctional Facility for Women where she recently published a volume of writing by incarcerated women.

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

Editor's Picks Poetry Pop Culture

Here’s why that Rumi quote you’re posting is actually fake

How many books have you read where the protagonist tells the story from their own eyes?

Where the narrator has opinions that end up defining and shaping the rest of the characters, and it’s up to us viewers to catch the slivers of objectivity and piece together the whole story?

We rely on the narrator’s lens to show us the whole picture.

But, what if… we don’t know the narrator at all? 

It was with these thoughts that I came across a Twitter thread by Persian Poetics that explained the removal of Islam from the famous poet, Jalaluddin Rumi’s writing.

via Twitter
Twitter / via @PersianPoetics 

Born in the early 13th century, Rumi grew up in what is now Afghanistan and eventually settled with his family in Konya, today’s Turkey.

Rumi is known for his life-changing, mystical, enlightened-esque poetry, but hardly known as what he truly was: a scholar of Islam, and a practicing Muslim.

The thread goes on to draw a massive distinction between Rumi’s original writing that was ingrained with the teachings of the Quran, and Rumi’s spiritual and religious knowledge. His original poems, written in Persian, were a vivid reflection of Rumi’s Muslim identity and spiritual beliefs. In the hands of colonialist ‘translators’, Rumi’s poetry was distorted, stripped of the culture it steeped in, and converted to a diluted version of his true poetry.

The interpreter responsible for most prominently separating Rumi from his Muslim identity and who made a career out of his ‘translations’, was Coleman Barks. He may have had a degree in Literature, but Barks had never studied Islam or Sufism academically.

Yet, somehow, this man who could not understand a word of Persian decided to ‘translate’ the work of Rumi, a poet who wrote fifty-thousand lines of mostly Persian, some Arabic poetry, and often used Islamic anecdotes in one of his final works: a six-book monumental poem titled ‘Masnavi’.

In a brilliant article for the New Yorker, Rozina Ali writes, that Jawid Mojaddedi, a scholar of early Sufism at Rutgers, told her that, “the Rumi that people love is very beautiful in English, and the price you pay is to cut the culture and religion.”

So, when I heard that Brad Pitt had one of Rumi’s more famously translated poems tattooed on his arm, I immediately began wondering how he’d feel when he found out what Rumi was actually saying.

On the right is Barks’ ‘translation’ and what Pitt has tattooed.

On the left is a true translation by Persian Poetics.

 A post comparing the translation of one of Rumi's poems between Coleman Barks and Persian Poetics on Twitter
[Image description: A post comparing the translation of one of Rumi’s poems between Coleman Barks and Persian Poetics on Twitter. The Coleman Banks version says: Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. Persian Poetics translation states: Beyond kufr and Islam there is a desert plain, in that middle space our passions reign. When the gnostic arrives there he’ll prostrate himself, not kufr not Islam nor is there any space in that domain.] Via Persian Poetics on Twitter.

In the hands of colonialist ‘translators’, Rumi’s poetry was stripped of the culture it’s steeped in.

See what I mean?

A tweet from Persian Poetics that shows an image of Brad Pitt with a tattoo of Coleman Bark's weak translation of one of Rumi's poems.
[Image description: A tweet from Persian Poetics that shows an image of Brad Pitt with a tattoo of Coleman Bark’s weak translation of one of Rumi’s poems.] Via Persian Poetics on Twitter
Ivanka Trump tweeted Coleman Barks translation of Rumi's poem : “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Persian Poetics tweeted a picture of her tweet with the caption : Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the most Islamophobic president in US history, tweeted it out after her dad failed to make peace in Afghanistan. If Rumi were alive today, her dad wouldn't even allow him in the country. The irony
[Image description: Ivanka Trump tweeted Coleman Barks translation of Rumi’s poem: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.
Persian Poetics tweeted a picture of her tweet with the caption: Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the most Islamophobic president in US history, tweeted it out after her dad failed to make peace in Afghanistan. If Rumi were alive today, her dad wouldn’t even allow him in the country. The irony.] Via Twitter
In the words of Persian Poetics: my heart aches for those who only know Rumi via this orientalist garbage masquerading as a translation.

Let’s pull this back and examine the role of a reliable narrator.

Even as a translator, Coleman Barks wasn’t reliable. He tried to westernize centuries-old poetry that represented a religious scholar’s life work, in order for it to seem more approachable and easier to face by an audience that it probably was never even meant for.

It makes you seriously question: how much do we just not know? How much of the history and culture of the past has been deliberately mistranslated, before it was even misinterpreted? 

Culture seems to scare people.

A narrator’s job is to be reliable and tell the truth. A narrator should merely translate the scenes playing out; it’s up to us to interpret them.

The truth is that an unreliable translator can change the story instantly.

That’s how you preserve all of history – not just a single dimension of it. The truth is that an unreliable translator can change the story instantly.

It can trick you into mixing up the good and evil, the black and white.

But, most dangerously, an unreliable narrator can take all the shades of grey and distort them into one giant blob, making it unable to ever understand the story and risk losing its true essence forever.

You’ll never trust the story.

If nothing else, the weak, one-sides translations of Rumi’s powerful work are proof of that.

LGBTQIA+ Poetry Books Pop Culture

Ariana Brown’s poetry powerfully captures life as a queer person of color

The first thing you should know about Ariana Brown’s debut poetry book, SANA SANA, is that I could not stop crying, from start to finish. She definitely succeeds in holding the reader, and most importantly, holding herself as the author. 

Ariana has been featured in PBS, Huffington Post, For Harriet, Remzcla, Muzzle, and performed in spaces such as the San Antonio Guadalupe Theater, Tucson Poetry Festival, and the San Francisco Opera Theatre. She performs at universities, has curriculum available for specific poems, and she even has a music video out for her poem “Ode to Thrift Stores.”

So it was only natural for her to turn her poetic artwork into a physical collection.

In her poem “Odisea (for Ozuna)” she writes, “It was years before I wrote poems about loving myself, / but they come so easy now.”

SANA SANA is a poetry collection of Black Mexican girlhood, queerness, reclamation of identity and autonomy in a capitalistic and racist world, and self-love. 

Media representation and the plethora of examples of colonization and white supremacy from the beginning of time display a consistent form of erasure of Blackness when depicting Latinx culture.

We as people of color have the absolute right to critique whiteness and how it negatively impacts us.

Brown masterfully highlights the impact of this harm by explaining this in her opening poem “23” in the lines, “I don’t know / how to call myself Black in Spanish / without it being an insult” as well as her poem “Dear White Girls in My Spanish Class” through the lines, “Let me be clear. / Spanish was given to my people / at the end of a sword… Spanish is not my native tongue. / English isn’t either. The languages I speak / are bursting with blood, but they are all I have.” 

Ariana Brown does an amazing job emphasizing resiliency and survival among Black people in her poem “Cumbia.” The root of cumbia is through slaves in Colombia inventing it because of their inability to lift their feet while in chains. There is joy in the act of dancing, and to dance is “to make freedom/where there isn’t one.” 

3 layers Face Mask Virus protection

We as people of color have the absolute right to critique whiteness and how it negatively impacts us. And the author is able to do that without making whiteness the center of her narrative.

In Brown’s poems “Instead” and “Supremacy,” she refuses to make her book more palatable for white readers by making her critique of them the center of the flow of her poems. She talks about the preferential treatment of white women while making sure that the focus is on how Black women’s narratives are to be at the center after not including them for so long. 

Yes, I’m still crying. You’re probably crying too. 

Finding yourself within the context of the color of your skin as a person of color is very different from coming into your sexuality as a queer person, and one of the most precious things that stood out to me in this collection is how this poet learns to love herself as a Black woman because of her love for another Black woman in “Myself, First.”

Everyone’s self-discovery with gender and sexuality varies, and it feels good to read this form of it as a queer non-binary woman. 

Finding yourself within the context of the color of your skin as a person of color is very different from coming into your sexuality as a queer person.

Reading SANA SANA and being exposed to Ariana’s work in general always moves me to tears because I have permission to be comfortable in my skin and in my body. In my Black and Queer body, more specifically.

City Lips Matte

Reading this book will make Black people feel comforted in how amidst living in this shitty world, being with your people will support you in your living and thriving; “I have never needed a country to love me—just Black people.” 

Yes, I’m still crying. You’re probably crying too. 

SANA SANA is released and available to purchase here at Game Over Books.

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter.

Poetry Books Pop Culture Interviews

How Ruby Dhal created a world of healing and hope

In a world where suffering perpetually festers by shape-shifting from one dissuading embitterment onto another, solace may be sought from the redeeming verses of those who strive hard to bring a glimmer of hope into our lives.

Let me introduce you to one such individual: Ms. Ruby Dhal, an empath who devoted her life’s work to combat your lingering hurt with her words.

With a Master’s in Philosophy from King’s College London, Ruby Dhal has paved quite a path for herself since she grew up in Hayes, South West London, where the minority is composed of underrepresented immigrant groups.

Writer-cum-Poetess Ruby Dhal reading an excerpt out of her book for the audience.
[Image Description: Writer and poet Ruby Dhal reading an excerpt out of her book for the audience.] via Ruby Dhal
In an exclusive interview with The Tempest, Dhal recounted where her love for scripting originated: “I’d been writing stories since I was a little girl. I always turned to books as a way to escape from my childhood experiences because, following my mother’s death, they weren’t too pleasant.”

However, it wasn’t until the age of 21 that she seized her internalized obfuscations by the horns and sought reprieve by creating an Instagram page. “I continued writing therapeutic/healing poetry and prose because I realized that so many people around the world were experiencing the same things.”

My Hope For Tomorrow (out December 2019), preceded by Memories Unwound (March 2017) and A Handful of Stars (May 2019) is the third literary enterprise undertaken by Dhal where she perseveres in her pursuit to comprehend intricacies of love, relationships, self-worth, etc.

A compelling tale of self-discovery, this latest addition is, “for anyone on their healing journey who would like to mend their broken pieces,” explained Ruby. “The purpose of this book is to allow each reader to learn more about themselves and become hopeful on their healing journey.”

When asked as to how My Hope for Tomorrow became a personal favorite among the works published by her thus far, the author wistfully observed that “I was emotionally in a much better place when I started writing this book. I had the ability to detach myself from the pieces and think ‘How would someone else feel when they read this?’ which allowed me to direct most of the pieces to my readers.”

In spite of such revelations, Dhal humbly refused to qualify her aspiring literary work to be termed as ‘self-help’ in the ‘hardcover’ definition. “My books spread the message, ‘Here is how you’re feeling, just know that you’re not alone and we’re on this journey together. And remember, there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel and lots of healing that we’ll do along the way.’”

A front and side profile of Ruby Dhal's latest literary addition "My Hope For Tomorrow"
[Image Description: A front and side profile of Ruby Dhal’s latest literary addition “My Hope For Tomorrow” ] via Ruby Dhal
Albeit not dealing with mental illness in the textbook version of things, Ruby acknowledges the strenuous power wielded by our ‘low moods’ on a daily basis. For this reason, she devotes most of her musings on struggling to maintain healthy mental health in this upheaval of a journey we call life.

Her grand message to her devout readers is to, “Hope for the future. Hope for the present. Hope that their healing journey will make them stronger, hope that the pain will slowly fade away, hope that they will experience happiness in every shade, hope that things will be okay.”

Author Ruby Dhal speaking into a microphone.
[Image Description: Author Ruby Dhal speaking into a microphone.] via Ruby Dhal
Apart from her regular intervals of dedicating heartfelt messages for her readers via tweets and Instagram posts, Ruby Dhal is also an avid poetess who has had her work published in Erstwhile, NR Magazine, and Crown Anthology. In the meanwhile, her inspirational take on life can also be found on platforms like Thought Catalog and The Tempest, both of whom show her love of hard-hitting spiritual realism. 

If this wasn’t enough, Dhal’s working on a pilot project where she plans on conducting workshops to help alleviate the staggering nihilism in our lives.

Upon being asked to elaborate on this philanthropic project, Dhal eagerly elucidated how, “every workshop would have a different theme and we would tackle specific obstacles that they’re experiencing, with the goal of overcoming them or gaining the necessary tools to do so.”

Whether you find yourself wriggling out of some unfortunate situation, or are finally beginning to be at peace with yourself or have altogether forsaken any hope to give life another chance- this book is for you.

Brimming with anticipation for coming-to-terms-with-yourself worthiness, My Hope for Tomorrow doesn’t disappoint.

Until then, here’s the author’s personal favorite snippet from the book to warm your hearts:

“I have learned to do the one thing that
most people find so difficult to do –
I have learned to love myself in ways
that I never thought possible,
and that is what saved me.”

My Hope for Tomorrow came out in December 2019 and you can get it here for $12.99. You could even try your luck at winning a free copy through our Instagram giveaway!

Book Reviews Poetry Books Pop Culture

Shareefa Energy will take you on a “Galaxy Walk” with her beautiful poetry

Galaxy Walk is Shareefa Energy‘s first published collection of poems – it is a beautiful set of pieces that make you feel like you are both coming home and breaking out at the same time.

Shareefa is a UK based spoken word poet, writer, mentor and workshop facilitator. She was awarded the UK Entertainment Best Poet 2017 Award and a nominee for the Eastern Eye Arts, Culture & Theatre 2019 award by the Arts Council. Her poetry has featured on BBC The One Show, Channel 4 and ITV and been published in various publications. All in all, it’s pretty sufficient to say that she is using her voice and talents to empower and inspire women of color everywhere. 

I’d known Shareefa briefly before she’d moved to London and then one day I came across a video of her spoken word. And it changed things for me in so many ways. Never before had I seen a strong, Asian woman who came from the same city I did, be so unashamed to share her truth with the world.

This book has so much to offer – if anything, the cover itself is enough to make you want to pick up the book – it has such an ethereal feel to it.

Galaxy Walk is named after a walk in Leicester, UK – and the book follows the theme of sticking to its roots, with a few of the chapters named after streets nearby, streets I have wandered many times in life. To see them celebrated in the written word, well with it, it brings a certain joy that as a young Asian girl, I never got, the joy of finding something relatable. That speaks to me. That feeling that my world isn’t so small – that kind of magic I appreciate so much as an adult. But I cannot even imagine the impact Shareefa is having on the youngsters in the neighborhood.

The first chapter, “Pegasus Close”, welcomes you into her journey with a piece about her childhood and the hot chapattis her grandmother would make as she skipped home from school, home through all the familiar places. I’ve seen many writers try and put down in words the experience of growing up in a Desi household.

The first two chapters explore the sentimental Indian snacks that feel like comfort, the desi obsession with fair skin, the way the system discriminates against the Asian youth, as well as so many things which I’ve never seen written about. It fully encompasses both the comforts and discomforts of growing up as an Asian, Muslim woman. As Benjamin Zephaniah says “Shareefa knows a woman’s place is on the front line speaking truth to power.

In the chapter “Jury in Space”, Shareefa takes us on a journey through her travels in the world, whether that be in Sierra Leone or Haifa – she shares the beauty of each place she visited, as well as the pain she witnessed. I find this to be a constant theme in this book – she doesn’t sugarcoat anything. She shows us the good and the bad of all the issues she discusses whilst still keeping the tone and making it feel like you are having an intimate conversation with a friend over a cup of Masala Chai.

One of the most important chapters turned out to be one of the shortest. “Grenfell Rd” consists of three poems, an eyewitness account of that night, a reflection a year on and a commentary on the system that allowed it to happen. Grenfell Tower was a 24-story tower block that caught on fire, causing the death of 72 people. For most of us, Grenfell is spoken as though a prayer, we watched videos in horror and helplessness. But for Shareefa, who was there, who tried to help in any way she could – to be able to keep going and use her voice speak of such a thing takes a lot of mental strength. To be able to write it into words and share it with the world so they cannot forget, well that takes bravery I cannot quite put into words.

This book discusses politics, religion, mental health and so much more which is typical from a poetry collection, what makes it striking is the eyes we are seeing all of this through. It’s a perspective which is not often shared with the world – through the eyes of a Muslim woman who is not afraid to be vulnerable and share herself with us.

This book is a gift and I hope Shareefa never stops writing, speaking and inspiring the rest of us.

Get Galaxy Walk here

The Internet Poetry Books Pop Culture

These Instagram poets aren’t afraid to bring us the authenticity we need

Poetry often bridges a connection between one’s soul and words. It is a form of art, one which women of color are taking by storm on social media with their unique voices. These women are not only spreading universal art but are breaking barriers and spreading awareness with poetry as their weapon of choice.

I consider myself a poet as well and so I resonate with the words of other poets. They inspire me to not only resist injustice but appreciate the flaws and blessings I have within myself. Reading poetry allows me to have a deep connection with the author that goes beyond physicality. I read poetry to reflect on and empower myself.

In honor of the women of color on Instagram who are changing society by words and poetry, here are my top five poets I go to for art.

1. Pavana Reddy

Los Angeles-based writer and author of the book Rangoli, Pavana Reddy first used poetry as therapy to heal the wounds caused by the loss of her sister. Reddy initially began sharing her work anonymously under the handle @mazadohta – consisting of the words ‘Maza’ and ‘Dohta’ from her favorite book, “IQ84” by Haruki Murakami, from Reddy’s understanding the words together refer the relationship between the body and mind. After gaining confidence in her work, Reddy began associating her name with her account and work but decided not to change the Instagram handle as it was a part of her journey. Reddy has since inspired many with her resilient poetry.

“Poetry and writing, in general, have saved my life more than once. When you suffer a loss that sends you into this spiral of depression, it’s easy to cling onto anything that helps you feel better, even if it’s only temporary. When I first reached for writing as a way to deal with this hurricane of emotions I was holding inside, I was forced to face all of my fears head-on. And as long as I wanted to grow as a writer, I had to learn to keep being honest with myself,” she told Bastet Noir in an interview. 

2. Nikita Gill

Nikita Gill is a British-Indian writer and artist living in England. She first began sharing her work on Tumblr and then went on to gain a huge following on her social media handles including Instagram. Having lived in New Delhi at a young age, Gill’s poetry reflects on that experience and depicts her anger and vulnerability.

“There was so much anger inside me. Men would strip me bare with their eyes and comment on my body. My parents wouldn’t let me out past a certain point at night. You literally become caged, because your safety is constantly at risk. And you’re not allowed to be yourself,” Gill told the BookSeller.

Her core readership consists of women in their late teen onwards and Gill writes to these readers as if addressing her younger self.

3. Nayyirah Waheed

Not much is known about author Nayyirah Waheed. She has published two books of poetry, Salt and Nejma, and is active on social media, but she shares her poetry exclusively and nothing personal. The African American poet began writing at a young age which according to some outlets was as young as 11 years old.

Waheed’s work focuses on immigration, self-love and other social issues such as race and identity. She is most well known for her style of writing which makes no use of capitalization or punctuation to reflect her African ancestral tongue.

4. Jasmin Kaur

“Part of the reason why I write and why I choose to render myself very visible through my work, as a Punjabi-Sikh woman, is because I didn’t I grow up seeing women or girls like me ever in a public space,” Jasmine Kaur said.

Kaur is a writer, illustrator, spoken word artist and elementary school teacher. Her writing explores themes of feminism, womanhood, social justice, political oppression, and self-love. In an interview with Women’s March Global, Kaur said a lot of her work is influenced by the oppressive experiences that her people have suffered in her home of Punjab. Her writing reflects the experiences of oppression she has faced growing up as a girl in society.

5. Harpreet M. Dayal

After having lived her whole life in the UK, Harpreet Dayal moved to Canada with her husband. This inspired her to write Svādhyāya (Sanskrit for ‘study of the self’), a collection of poems and musings. She calls it her journey to a better understanding of oneself. Dayal is also the author of another book, a short story for children, and is a spoken word performer.

“I personally think the most important thing is to evoke emotion and really get the listeners to imagine and feel the words. I am learning to use language that will really evoke emotions in the listener,” she told Thirty West Publishing House.

While this list does not do justice to all the creatives out there, it consists of women who inspire me on a daily basis. I hope you find the same peace, love and inspiration you may need in reading these women’s art as I do. I challenge you to read more, learn more, and write more. Poetry is an art of healing for the soul and I invite you to indulge in it.