The poem was published in Sanchez’s 1995 collection Wounded in the House of a Friend. The lines of the poem praise Black love, talent, perseverance, ambition, and more.
Explore This Is Not a Small Voice
The poem starts with the speaker stating that the voice of these individuals is not small. It’s powerful and has a broad reach. It is doing more than mourning their losses. It is looking towards the future and fighting for a better life.
The second stanza speaks to Black love. It is passionate, full, and nurtures life and more love in its place. The poet concludes the poem by reminding readers that the “voice” of Black men, women, and children is not a small one.
You can read the full poem here.
This is not a small voice
no epitaphs spill out of their river mouths.
In the first stanza of ‘This Is Not a Small Voice,’ the speaker begins by using the line that later came to be used as the poem’s title. They say that “this” voice is not “small.” At this point, it’s unclear what kind of voice they’re referring to, but soon after, with the mention of names like “LaTanya” and “Antoine,” it becomes clear. The speaker is talking about Black voices, those that the world has tried to suppress for much of human history.
The voices are not quiet, “coming out of these cities.” The voice of people protesting and fighting for their rights through whatever means is not quiet. These people are channeling the lives of “Darryl” and “Shaquille,” and the others the poet mentions. The name “Shaquille” brings to mind the basketball player Shaquille O’Neil. But, this name is just one of many the poet mentions. They all relate to Black communities at the time the poem was written.
The poet adds that voice runs through schools, into the corners of the cities, and more. It is not a voice, they say, that is simply mourning the dead in epitaph form. It is doing much more.
This is not a small love
This is a love initialed Black Genius.
The second stanza begins in the same way as the first, with the words “this is not a small.” This time though, the poet is talking about love. They say that Black love isn’t a tiny or marginalized thing. It is intense, beautiful, and passionate. Love brings people together and nurtures learning, hope, and more love in its place. It celebrates history and heals those who have been hurt.
The love celebrates life and all its pieces. It is made of “iron and lace,” an example of juxtaposition that reminds the reader of the varied elements of life. The stanza concludes with the speaker saying that the name of love is “Black Genius.”
This is not a small voice
The final stanza is only two lines long. It reiterates the message of the rest of the poem that the voice of the Black community is not small.
Structure and Form
‘This Is Not a Small Voice’ by Sonia Sanchez is a three-stanza poem that is written in free verse. This means that the lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines end with very different words and are different lengths.
But, that doesn’t mean the poem is entirely without form. The first stanza, which is a total of twelve lines, begins in the same way as the second and third stanzas, with the phrase “This is not a small.” The first two stanzas also use spacing in an interesting way. In the second line, there is a space between “hear” and “this” that takes up the space of one or two words. This allows the reader to pause, stretching the silence longer, giving them time to consider the reach of the “voice.”
Throughout this piece, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line.
For example, “you hear this is a large.”
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before it’s natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines four and five of the first stanza.
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “schools spilling” in stanza one and “large” and “learning” in lines two and three of the second stanza.
The themes at work in this poem are the beauty and power of the Black community and Black individuals. The poet celebrates Black talent and love, passion, and perseverance.
The purpose is to celebrate the voice of Black men, women, and children and remind readers of the broad reach the voice has. It stretches to all parts of the city and is doing more than mourning the dead.
The tone is direct and conversational. The poet uses specific language that gets to the heart of their meaning quite quickly. Without a rhyme scheme, the poem feels clearer and avoids any musical, sing-song-like qualities it might have if it rhymed.
The speaker is one of the voices that they refer to as “Black” voices throughout the poem. They are part of the talent and ambition of the men and women they are speaking about.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Sonia Sanchez poems. For example:
- ‘Catch the Fire’ – a thoughtful and inspiring poem. In it, the poet encourages readers to catch their fire and use their passion to fuel their lives.
- ‘Poem at Thirty’ – describes a speaker’s journey from being wounded to growing stronger. The pain reminds her of the metaphorical “midnight” of her life and her community.
- ‘Present – Poem’ – a colorful and rhythmic piece with two stanzas looking into the life and emotions of the author concerning her personal and communal history.