For so many of us, last year stretched us in ways we could not have imagined. There was great loss, turmoil, and so much change. Still, there was much to be grateful for—unexpected phone calls from loved ones, zoom meet ups with friends, time outdoors and the relief of fresh air.
I am so grateful to have books to turn to for comfort, distraction, company. Books have always been a kind of friend to me. I spent a lot of time reading and imagining as a child. I loved walking to the North Portland Library in the summertime to roam the aisles. Books took me to faraway lands, made me laugh, taught me important lessons, and made me see myself in familiar and new ways. I especially gravitated to poetry and loved stealing away to read the words of Nikki Giovanni and Eloise Greenfield.
I remember the first time I discovered "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes. I was attending Vernon Elementary School and was chosen to recite the poem at a Black History Month assembly. The speaker in the poem sounded like my mom. I even think my mom had said some of those things before. She was always pushing her children, telling us to never give up no matter how hard life might be. When I first read Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise, I felt powerful and proud of my ancestors. I was buoyed by their resilience.
And so I fell in love with poetry.
I loved the rhythm, I loved trying on different ways to say a phrase. I loved the line breaks, how each stanza would take me deeper and deeper into the meaning of the whole poem. I learned that poetry can be about anything. I could write odes to my neighborhood or favorite food, I could honor a loved one who had died, I could protest with my words and write poems that stood up against injustice.
Over the years, poetry became the way I celebrated, mourned, raged. And so, when the pandemic swept over our nation and living in quarantine became the new normal, I found myself turning to poetry for comfort and peace. And then summer came and with it came a even more police brutality and violence against Black men and women. I was weary. I turned to the poets who raised me, the poets who lived through The Great Depression, Jim Crow, The Civil Rights Movement. They knew something about sorrow, about loss, about protest. They also knew about joy and love and how to hold on to hope.
It’s a new year and still, we need comfort, we need inspiration. I’m still keeping poetry nearby and I offer these recently published books as a refuge, a guiding light, a healing balm. Some are novels-in-verse, some are traditional poetry collections. All of them are treasures and medicine for the soul.