Black Women’s Poetic Genius: In Response to Audre Lorde’s “Poetry Is Not A Luxury”

Every time I read Audre Lorde’s “Poetry Is Not A Luxury,” I feel like swallowing Mari Evans’ “Who Can Be Born Black” and throwing it up into the universe—with hopes that none of it hits the ground, but splatters on everybody’s faces.  In her 1970 poem, Evans asks,

can be born black
and not
the wonder of it
the joy
And/to come together
in a coming togetherness
vibrating with the fires of pure knowing
reeling with power
ringing with the sound above sound above sound
to explode/in the majesty of our oneness
our comingtogether
in a comingtogetherness
can be born
and not exult!


When I read Audre Lorde’s essay, I know that Mari Evans—and many black women poets like her (Angelou, Giovanni, Clifton, Walker, Sanchez, Jordan)— have selflessly composed and shared their poetry as a tool toward liberation.  In other words, these black women poets write poetry as a social action, and therefore, are civil rights activists whose declamations have “la[id] the foundations for a future of change” (38).  And if encouraging others to be the change they want to see in the world isn’t enuf, black women poets have accepted their role as mystics, if you will, who have entered into the silences of themselves and tapped into their creative genius in order to manifest Creator.  And so, black women poets be that divine energy that Lorde claims is “a vital necessity of our existence” (37).  Basically, black women poets have ensured our very humanity; they have allowed human beings to see themselves in other beings, human and non-human; they have offered themselves to the world so that its inhabitants may understand and have compassion for one another.  Undoubtedly, poetry is not a luxury.

 *          *          *

I have been writing poetry since I was in elementary school.  However, it wasn’t until I saw Maya Angelou deliver “On the Pulse of Morning” for President Clinton’s 1993 Inaugural Address that poetry actually crawled up my spine and shook me into a holy ghost.  I was immediately smitten with Angelou, and the same way that Nikki Giovanni’s Flora wanted to be Sheba, I wanted to be Maya Angelou.

I have been following Angelou since I was in the 7th grade.  However, today I want to be like me, who is forever becoming—faithfully, more spirit than ego.  And so, I find myself borrowing from all kinds of poets—black women, Buddhists, Christians, Rastas, white men, lesbians, children, students, the sky, my dogs—in an attempt to explore my own poetic voice.  For, knowing myself is only possible through the eyes of the other.

I am so happy to be black.  To be a black woman. To be a black woman poet.

Thank you Audre Lorde, and others.