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Poetic Self-Love

By: Lynette A. Shaw

The times in which we are currently living in, that are infested with systemic racism, the effects of the Pandemic, as well the danger of mental burnout, have provided us with an opportunity for serious introspection. In the past, I thought of certain art forms such as poetry, as a hobby, however this is no longer the case for me. Poetry has developed into a defense mechanism to combat what I face on a daily basis. Poetry protects me. It gives me answers.

Setting aside time to write poetry is an act of self-love. It validates who I am a person by giving me a voice, and a space to use it.

I am currently reading, "Call Us What We Carry" by Amanda Gorman, and this concept is demonstrated repeatedly. The way in which the author illustrates human empathy, tribulations, and challenges we have all faced recently, allows for a space of human healing.

By that same token, poetry provides us with the opportunity to connect with others as well. There's no greater feeling than listening to a poem that resonates with you. Or better yet, hearing a fresh poem someone is sharing with you for the first time. Being a college student who has attended many open mics, I have been blessed to see the way in which words can move others from across the room. People are only one poem away from getting to know someone better--their past, their passions, their pitfalls.

In a world where I am constantly restricted by rules, my words are heavily monitored, and my voice is heavily regulated, poetry provides me with a space where there are no rules. Recently, my poetic journey has led me to believe that poetry does not have to be confined to the page. Breathing is poetry. Eating is poetry. Pictures are poetry. Tears are poetry. And that single sock under your bed, yes, that is poetry too. I have been experimenting with the idea of poetry being a multimedia experience (photography, voices, painting). And with said realization, I have grown immensely from it. I recently read "Blessed is the Fruit of Thy Womb Capitalism" by Tina Maria Dunkley, and I was moved by not only the thousands of metaphors throughout the poem, but the illustration that accompanied it. Poetry allows me to practice self-love not only because it validates my voice, but because it shows me that my voice carries power. This is emphasized by some of my favorite poets such as Nikki Giovanni, whose voice made waves as she navigated the Black Arts Movement as a Black woman. Her poetry does not conform to the conventional poetry we are often made to study in school; however, it speaks her truth unapologetically...and I was immediately drawn to this.

A lesson I have been learning recently is that giving yourself space to just be, is art. It is love. This may mean I start writing in a stream of consciousness style, no expectations. No right or wrong. It might mean I watch my favorite film. It might mean watching the sunset.

My life is art. Being Black is art. Our coexistence is art.

Here is a poem I wrote and performed recently:

In the darkest hour of the fight,

the bleakest minute of the night,

our eyes collide

in shared solidarity

of our


Caught between seeking,

and what's sought,

and claiming what

your ancestors fought



making plates

at the cookout,

with uncles on

the lookout


and expecting mothers

collecting wisdom

from our grandmothers

who brought generations


sit before them,

It's waking up to Anita Baker

and the smell of Pine Sol

on a Saturday morning,

and doing the dishes--

it's birthday wishes

made to the

Stevie Wonder version

of "Happy Birthday"


sung to you.

It's watching your cousins

who clung to you

as babies,

grow and find their way.

It's dancing the electric slide

to Cameo,

and getting your hair braided

on the back porch

in the summer.

It's the twinkle in my brown eyes,

and the way they easily disguise the

way society

has inflicted


upon me.

To bring an end,

to the eternal reign

of hatred

that beats upon my

Black skin.

It's knowing where to begin.

It's knowing what's within.

Author with Nikki Giovanni (2006)


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