|Etel Adnan, "Blessed Day" (1990)|
And so I did not reject these poems, I did not despise them saying, "How is this possible? Sixteen different manuscripts of poetry written in 1985 and not one of them uses the terms of my own Black life! Not one of them writes about the police murder of Eleanor Bumpurs or the Bernard Goetz shooting of four Black boys or apartheid in South Africa, or unemployment, or famine in Ethiopia, or rape, or fire escapes, or cruise missiles in the New York harbor, or medicare, or alleyways, or napalm, or $4.00 an hour, and no time off for lunch.
I did not and I would not presume to impose my urgencies upon white poets writing in America. But the miracle of Black poetry in America, the difficult miracle of Black poetry in America, is that we have been rejected and we are frequently dismissed as “political” or “topical” or “sloganeering” and “crude” and ‘insignificant” because, like Phillis Wheatley, we have persisted for freedom. We will write against South Africa and we will seldom pen a poem about wild geese flying over Prague, or grizzlies at the rain barrel under the dwarf willow trees. We will write, published or not, however we may, like Phillis Wheatley, of the terror and the hungering and the quandaries of our African lives on this North American soil. And as long as we study white literature, as long as we assimilate the English language and its implicit English values, as long as we allude and defer to gods we “neither sought nor knew,” as long as we, Black poets in America, remain the children of slavery, as long as we do not come of age and attempt, then to speak the truth of our difficult maturity in an alien place, then we will be beloved, and sheltered, and published.
But not otherwise. And yet we persist.
— June Jordan, “The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America or Something Like a Sonnet for Phillis Wheatley” (February, 1985)
I am composing on the typewriter late at night, thinking of today. How well we all spoke. A language is a map of our failures. Frederick Douglass wrote an English purer than Milton's. People suffer highly in poverty. There are methods but we do not use them. Joan, who could not read, spoke some peasant form of French. Some of the suffering are: it is hard to tell the truth; this is America; I cannot touch you now. In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger. The burning of a book arouses no sensation in me. I know it hurts to burn. There are flames of napalm in Catonsville, Maryland. I know it hurts to burn. The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor's language.
— Adrienne Rich, “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children” (1986)
I am not a metaphor. My place of origin is not a metaphor. I inhabit my language, my imagination, more and more completely. It becomes me. I do not exist as a text. I am spoken into being—as Léopold Sédar Senghor said of the world. I speak myself into being and with that speech my place of origin. I use this speech to craft fiction, which is not a record of myself, which is self-consciously—self-confidently—political. I do believe in the word, that a new world may be spoken into being.
— Michelle Cliff, “Sites of Memory” (2008)