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Poet Laureate - Details

January 2018

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I’m sharing a contemporary poem, “how to get over [“be born: black…”], by T’ai Freedom Ford from her debut book “How to Get Over.” T’ai is a New York City high school English teacher and Cave Canem Fellow. Her lyrical voice is well suited to the task of navigating both the past and the present, considering the timeless and universal—particularly questions of oppression, identity and privilege, and questing toward peace through transformation.

I’d encourage you to read this poem aloud to really appreciate its sonic qualities. It’s not only a powerful poem of meaning, but it’s a musical masterpiece. Pay attention to how she creates a framework for the poem with the anaphora of “as” and “black,” and then all the gorgeous rhythm, assonance and consonance carrying us through the poem line by line. XOKate


how to get over ["be born: black…"]
By T’ai Freedom Ford

be born: black
as ants on a chicken bone black

as Nina Simone and Mahalia’s moan black
as rock pile smile and resilience black

as resistance and rhythm and Sonny’s blues black
as no shoes and dirt floors black

as whore and Hottentot foxtrot Lindy Hop
and Watusi pussy and pyramids black

as darkness under your eyelids black
between your legs black

as dregs of rum sugarcane summer
plums holyghost hum black

as bruised throat fieldholla wading in the shallow black
as ocean river stream creek running black

transparent translucent transatlantic slanted
shanties planted in red clay black

as funky chickens and chitlins and kinfolk sold away black
as auction block and slop and hip-hop and rock and roll

and chop shop and cop cars and parole and overseer
patrols and one drop rules and pools of blood black

as beige and good hair and sounding white and light-skindeded
and my grandmamma is Cherokee, Iroquois, Choctaw black

as pit bulls and lockjaw and rage and hoodies black
eyes and black-eyed peas peasy heads and loose tracks black

as trees and noose and hounds let loose in the night black
as fist and fight Sojourner and Nat Turner and righteousness black

as fuck and not giving a fuck mud-stuck and quicksand
quick hand hustle thigh muscle and hurdle black

as cotton and tobacco and indigo black
as wind and bad weather and feather

and tar and snap beans in mason jars black
as nigga please and hallelujah black

asses and black strap molasses and turn your black
back on audiences black

as banjo and djembe and porch and stoop and spooks
sitting by the door black

as roaches in front of company and lawn jockeys
and latchkey kids and high bids and spades and shittalk black

as cakewalk and second line and black
magic and tap dance, lapdance and alla that ass black

as jazz and juke and juju and spirit
disguised as harmonica spit black

as cast-iron skillets and grits and watermelon seeds
flitting from lips black

as tambourines hitting cornbread hips black
batons splitting lips and Martin Luther King, Jr.

boulevards and downtown beatdowns black
sit-ins and come-ups and oops upside yo’ heads

and we shall overcomes and get down on it black
get into it black let’s get it on and get it

while the getting is good black
as white hoods and backwood revivals black

as survival and Trayvon and Tyrone and Josephus
and amen and Moses and Jesus and getting over

black—

T’ai Freedom Ford, "how to get over [pp. 42-44]" from how to get over. Copyright © 2017 by t’ai freedom ford. Source: how to get over (Red Hen Press, 2017)