When Rupi Kaur’s “Milk and Honey” was first published, it sent the literary world into an uproar. While many praised Kaur for her short, easily digestible poems, many others were firmly against the new trend of “Instagram poetry.” It seems to be there’s no middle ground in Kaur’s case — but that’s not what we’re talking about today. I believe poetry collections about and written by women of color should be celebrated, and these are just a few more suggestions to add to your shopping list.
Melissa Lozada-Oliva — “Peluda”
While mostly known for her punchy stage presence and her incredible poetry, Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s “Peluda” (meaning hairy/hairy beast) explores Latinx identity, body image, immigrant identity, family and class, all with a touch of humor and all through Lozada-Oliva’s striking verse. All of the poems in “Peluda” are filled with such power. Take her poem “Yosra Strings Off My Mustache Two Days After the Election in the Harvard Square Bathroom”:
“& i think of what the most
guatemalan-colombian thing i've ever done
is & maybe it's grow. i think about the most american
thing we've ever done & it's hide in this bathroom.
i think about the most womanly thing
we've ever done & it's live anyway.
this isn't oppression. this is, i got you.
i believe you. it hurts but what else are we going to do
it aches but we have no other choice do we.”
Fatimah Asghar — “If They Come for Us”
There is only one word to describe the poetry in Fatimah Asghar’s debut collection “If They Come for Us”— raw. Asghar’s verse explores topics like trauma, loss, Islamophobia, sexuality, diaspora and Pakistani identity, all framed around the India-Pakistan partition and the loss of the poet’s parents. Her powerful imagery shapes the story so, so heartbreakingly. For example, in the poem “For Peshawar”:
“From the moment our babies are born
are we meant to lower them into the ground?
To dress them in white? They send flowers
before guns, thorns plucked from stem.
Every year I manage to live on this earth
I collect more questions than answers.
In my dreams, the children are still alive
at school. In my dreams they still play.”
Safia Elhillo — “The January Children”
I was introduced to Safia Elhillo from her “Alien Suite” video from the CUPSI 2016 competition — a 16-minute video of haunting, beautiful poem after poem. Elhillo’s collection “The January Children” covers the Sudan of her parents, identity, lost languages, oceans crossed, millennials, police brutality, family and the idea of belonging and not belonging. Several poems speak to the late Egyptian singer and Arab icon Abdel Halim Hafez. Powerful, moving, personal and yet, at the same time, relatable, Elhillo’s book is a must-read. Her poem “vocabulary” opens the book:
the arabic word هواء /hawa/ means wind
the arabic word هوى /hawa/ means love
test: [multiple choice]
abdelhalim said you left me holding wind in my hands
abdelhalim said you left me holding love in my hands
abdelhalim was left empty
abdelhalim was left full
fairouz said o wind, take me to my country
fairouz said o love, take me to my country
fairouz is looking for vehicle
fairouz is looking for fuel
oum kalthoum said where the wind stops her ships, we stop ours
oum kalthoum said where love stops her ships, we stop ours
oum kalthoum is stuck
oum kalthoum is home”
Of course, all of these poetry books can be purchased online (though hopefully straight from the publisher and not from Amazon) or at an independent bookstore on or near campus. My personal recommendation is Literati on East Washington!