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A BIPOC Poetry Reading Guide

Poetry is a boundless art. It’s been a home for all kinds of communities and is a captivating tool for self-expression. However, there are so many BIPOC poets that deserve the same, if not more, recognition than their white, overrepresented peers. Here are some poetry books written by BIPOC poets that you can read rather than the same old Shakespeare or Robert Frost: 

If They Come for Us: Poems by Fatimah Asghar

TW: This book has mentions and stories of genocide, rape and domestic abuse. 

In If They Come for Us: Poems, Fatimah Asghar, a Pakistani-Kashmiri-American poet, beautifully captures her experiences of being a Pakistani Muslim woman in America, all while dissecting concepts such as identity and its many intersections, violence, healing, vulnerability and womxnhood. The book is a quilt of peoples’ stories and histories, with an inherent kindness and patience present in each one that will definitely take you on a journey through its lyricism. 

An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo

An American Sunrise is a tale of Joy Harjo’s relationship to her homeland. Two hundred years after her people were forcibly removed from their land–which is now a part of Oklahoma–Harjo revisits it and tells us the story of how that history intertwines with her current life. All the poems pieced together make for a powerful collective that resonate themes of  survival, family, justice, healing, and legacy. 

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Under the Mesquite is a coming-of-age story of a young girl, Lupita, navigating adulthood. When she finds out her mom has cancer, she is forced to confront the possibility of losing her. On top of that, Lupita has to help take care of not just her mom, but her seven siblings as well. Amid all the chaos in her life, she finds solace under a mesquite tree and learns how to use writing as a tool for resilience. 

A Cruelty Special to Our Species: Poems by Emily Jungmin Yoon

TW: This book has mentions and stories of sexual violence.

A Cruelty Special to Our Species is a book of poems in which poet Emily Jungmin Yoon interrogates the history of sexual violence against Korean women, specifically focusong on “comfort women,” or women who were forced into sexual labor in Japanese-occupied terriroties during World War II. Yoon doesn’t hold back when sharing these poems and through evocative language and fearlessness, she confronts the concepts of war, oppression and colonization.

The Country Without a Post Office by Agha Shahid Ali

TW: This book has mentions and stories of violence. 

The Country Without a Post Office is Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali’s way of making sense of his return to his homeland of Kashmir during the 1990 uprisings. The poems tell the story of Ali’s changing relationship to his birthplace and how tragedy and disaster can affect one’s sense of home.

Build Yourself a Boat by Camonghne Felix

TW: This book has mentions and stories of sexual assault, suicide and self-harm. 

Build Yourself a Boat is Camonghne Felix’s intimate, honest and emotionally raw story of trauma, survival and healing. The poems, which are written with both emotion and power, are arranged in a way in which readers can walk through Felix’s journey and come close to experiencing the full arc of her life. 

No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

In No Matter the Wreckage, spoken word poet Sarah Kay takes readers on a journey about family, love, history and the unexpected beauty of inanimate objects. Kay tells her story of self-discovery and exploration with intense insight, profoundness and a soft lyricism. With this book, readers see the world through Kay’s eyes and experience not just her heartache, but her truth and grace as well.

I Can’t Talk about the Trees Without the Blood by Tiana Clark

I Can’t Talk about the Trees Without the Blood is poet Tiana Clark’s vulnerable telling of her life as a Black woman in the American South. The heft and heaviness of the poems’ subject matter are balanced by their delicate lyrical quality and clarity. Through her unique form and voice, Clark clearly enunciates her histories involving race, family, lineage and faith with this book.

Aarohi Sheth
Aarohi Sheth
Aarohi Sheth is a writer + artist originally from Houston, TX, currently pursuing a degree in journalism at the University of Southern California. She hopes to keep creating interdisciplinary work that pushes boundaries, empowers underrepresented communities and generates empathy in others.
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