Words Like Fire, Voice Like Thunder: Black Poetry as Resistance, Resilience, and Self-Realization


Spring 2018

Thursdays, 5:00 – 7:00 pm, Few FF101

Poetry has never been far from politics. From Langston Hughes to Lucille Clifton to Eazy-E to Erykah Badu, poetry has been a means by which Black people have articulated pain and triumph in each political moment not only to the world, but to themselves. Names like Nayyirah Waheed, Warsan Shire, Aja Monet, and Rudy Francisco dominate the modern poetry scene in the West as leading figures in the art of poetry. They also serve as voices for the complexity of the politicized existence of Blackness. Yet, to understand these modern voices and the art they create, we must understand the tradition they work in.

In this course, we will make a concerted effort to engage and understand just a portion of this tradition. We will begin at the Harlem Renaissance, understanding how writers such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston helped create a nexus from which Black poetry exploded and evolved. Moving through the mid-20th century Black Arts Movement, we will then contextualize the birth of the poetry slam in the oral tradition and its importance to Black people in 1980s Chicago. We will then address the birth of hip-hop and its impact on the art of those such as Jill Scott and Lauryn Hill. Our destination is the present, where we will explore the likes of Warsan Shire and the art featured on Button Poetry and Poetry Slam, inc.

Note: This class is not a passive experience. Apart from reading the work of the artists of these poetic moments and analyzing them, students will be expected to create work of their own. As stated earlier, poetry is a means by which the poet not only interrogates the world, but themselves as well. This is a collective experience that the class will craft and shape as a community. We will have poetry readings and performances in class, and the course will culminate with an open class session where students will share the work they have created with the Duke community. 

  • Michael Ivory, mji3@duke.edu
  • Dr. Joseph Donahue - English
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