Poets such as Lucille Clifton and Maya Angelou look into their personal lives, as well as into their heritage, to find the stories of those who have made them who they are and then share those stories in order to inspire the next generations. These poems are about empowerment, the beauty and glory of the black body, and the importance of family and heritage.
Inspirational Poems about Black Women
- 1 won’t you celebrate with me by Lucille Clifton
- 2 A Poem For My Librarian by Nikki Giovanni
- 3 A Woman Speaks by Audre Lorde
- 4 Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou
- 5 Rosa Parks by Nikki Giovanni
- 6 Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
- 7 Power by Audre Lorde
- 8 Woman Work by Maya Angelou
- 9 Primer For Blacks by Gwendolyn Brooks
- 10 Lineage by Margaret Walker
In ‘won’t you celebrate with me’ Clifton confronts racism and gender inequality. The first lines are a call to action, asking the reader to celebrate with her. The speaker, who is generally considered to be Clifton herself, or perhaps an embodiment of all women like her, has achieved a great deal against all odds. She has none of the benefits of privilege, money, and whiteness, but has overcome that. The gender bias of contemporary and historical society has not repressed her, it has not won the battle for control over her life.
This poem is dedicated to Mrs. Long, the librarian at the local black library that Giovanni visited when she was a young girl. Giovanni describes how the librarian helped introduce her to the world of literature and the impact that that introduction had on her while she was delving her interests. The poem also touches on other aspects of Giovanni’s world as she was growing up. These include listing to artists, such as Nat King Cole and the limited television she had access to.
‘A Woman Speaks’ by Audre Lorde is a powerful poem that gives a voice to those who are often without one. In the text, Lorde confirms the experiences of black women living in the United States and around the world. She also seeks to open a dialogue about and with the feminist movement in regard to what has been and has not been done for women of color.
This piece, like others on this list, is about empowering oneself. The speaker, who is often considered to be Angelou herself, asks young women to go out into the world and “kick ass,” no matter who they are or what they look like. The speaker addresses herself in parts of ‘Phenomenal Woman,’ stating the fact that she is “not cute or “built” to wear the fashion model’s clothes. Despite this, she knows that society’s norms do not matter when addressing one’s worth. She can carry herself confidently, walking into a room “as cool as you please” and stand up to a man.
In this celebratory poem, Giovanni traces the history of the Civil Rights movement through the people, court cases, protests, and publications that defined it. Within the text, a reader can find references to Gwendolyn Brookes, Brown v. Board of Education, the Pullman Porters, and most prominently Rosa Parks. The lines of this poem read like a prose-poem, taking the reader through images of suffering, determination, light, and darkness.
‘Still I Rise’ is one of Maya Angelou’s most popular poems. In the text, the speaker stands up to prejudice and preconceived notions of who she should be. She determines that she is valuable and deserving of respect, common themes in Angelou’s work. The refrain, “I rise” is used throughout, gaining intensity as the poem progresses. Towards the end, the speaker proudly states that she is leaving behind her own history and the “nights of terror and fear”. She is headed into the light, bringing with her the “gifts that [her] ancestors gave”.
Power by Audre Lorde
This poem is based on a real life event that Lorde heard on the radio while she was driving. The radio informed her of the acquittal of a white policeman who had shot and killed a ten-year-old black boy. This horrifying event and its unjust conclusion inspired her to share her thoughts within ‘Power’. The poem contains images of “raw gunshot wounds” and a white desert stained with blood. She addresses the jury in the case, focusing on the control the eleven white men asserted over the one black woman.
In this poem, Angelou depicts the life of an average housewife as she goes through the motions of her everyday routine. This woman has to take care of her children, clean the house, mend clothes, and go shopping for groceries. All of her tasks pile up one after another, they are presented in a long list in the text. She evokes the sun, the moon, and the mountains as well as the “curving sky” to take her away from the drudgery of her existence and into a new, more stimulating world.
“Primer For Blacks’ is one of Brooks’ best known and most powerful poems. In it, she speaks on the necessity of accepting one’s black heritage and the unified future that will result from that acceptance. She speaks of blackness as being both a “commitment” and a “title.” It is what one is referred to as, but is also a promise one makes to “perceive” one’s “Glory.” It is necessary for all black people to know their own greatness and worth.
The speaker adds that in white culture it is easy to say that it is a great thing to be white, so easy in fact that many black people would say the same. She looks down on this perception and knows that unless that individual belief is changed, nothing else will. The poem comes to its conclusion with the speaker raising her voice and demanding that all those, no matter how much black blood they have, accept their own race and heritage.
In ‘Lineage’ Margaret Walker describes the strength of a speaker’s enslaved female ancestors and how they suffered for that strength. These women to whom she is related, either by blood or race, were forced to labor and die on plantations and farmlands. They were extremely strong in both mind and body. In the final lines of the poem, the speaker asks why she is not as strong as they are.