As you may know, April is National Poetry Month in the United States. This year’s National Poetry Month served as an invitation for me to consider the question, “what do I love most about poetry?” A few answers arose in response:
- discovering kindred spirits across time and space
- exploring life’s foundational questions with other poets
- seeking inspiration and imagination through an art form that connects my right and left brain.
In short, what I love about poetry is the perspective it offers. After being stuck in my home with the same habits and scenery for over a year, I find myself craving new perspective.
I therefore decided to partner with my friend, colleague, and fellow poet Prasanta Verma to explore some poems from a previous generation (almost exactly a century ago!). Not only did I want to learn from Prasanta and her perspective, but I also wanted to learn from poets who lived generations before me so I could get their perspective through time. As a result, Prasanta and I created a two-part poetry series called “Poetic Perspective: poetry from, and inspired by, the Harlem Renaissance.” We focused on the Harlem Renaissance poet Georgia Douglas Johnson.
In each of these readings, that you can watch below, we share some about the biography of Georgia Douglas Johnson, and why each of us were drawn to her life story and poetry. We then read one of her poems, and offer our thoughts and questions in response. One thing I love about Douglas Johnson’s poetry is that it is accessible on a first read, yet there are more and more insights to gain with each additional reading. Be sure to check out the videos to learn more about why we’ve come to love Georgia Douglas Johnson, as well as Douglas Johnson’s original poem below each corresponding video!
We then invite Georgia Douglas Johnson into conversation now, in the year 2021. Prasanta and I each picked one of Douglas Johnson’s poems that we loved, and we wrote a poetry prompt based on it. We shared those prompts with each other ahead of time, and wrote our own poem based on that prompt. During each reading, we explain the value of poetry prompts (and how they can be a helpful practice not only for poets and other writers, but also in general), and we then read the poems that we had previously written in response to each other’s poetry prompts.
Lastly, we invite you into this conversation of poetic perspective. From now until May 31st, if you sign up for my newsletter by clicking here, you’ll get the poetry prompt I wrote in response to “Cosmopolite” by Georgia Douglas Johnson, as well as the poem I wrote in response to Prasanta’s prompt. You can also sign up for Prasanta’s newsletter here to receive her prompt, as well as the poem she wrote in response to my prompt.
Though poetry is a deeply personal practice, it’s also one best shared in community. I’m so grateful I could share that community with Georgia Douglas Johnson and with Prasanta, and I’d love to share that community with you!
by Georgia Douglas Johnson (1922)
Not wholly this or that,
Of alien bloods am I,
A product of the interplay
Of traveled hearts.
Estranged, yet not estranged, I stand
From my estate
I view earth’s frail dilemma;
Scion of fused strength am I,
Nor this nor that
“The Heart of a Woman”
by Georgia Douglas Johnson (1918)
The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.
The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.
We filmed the first video on April 30th on Instagram Live, and it includes responses with the original viewers. We filmed the second video on May 6th on Zoom. I’d love to hear what you think about either/both videos! 🙂