Illustration: Ciara Phelan

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Say It Loud

Poetry is language behaving fearlessly in pursuit of emotional truth. Sometimes this is a matter of saying plainly what is difficult to muster. Or it might involve being formally inventive in order to make space for feelings that seldom find their way into speech. In either case, poems invite readers to take part in such acts of courage, and lay claim to their spoils: a broader and more useful vocabulary for the joys and the sorrows of being human.

When I consider how the simple aim of poetry is being borne out by the current constellation of African American bards, I begin to believe we are in the midst of a creative flourishing to rival the Harlem Renaissance. I'm thinking of artists like Morgan Parker, whose There Are More Beautiful Things Than BeyoncĂ© brings dark humor and pop-culture savvy to an examination of 21st-century female blackness. And Parker isn't alone. Black poets are engaged in the urgent enterprise of making sense of our present moment by writing boldly and resourcefully about the realities of race and gender in America. I notice most vividly a shared tendency to bear witness to what is starkest and most chastening—like police killings of unarmed black citizens—while also heeding what the incomparable Lucille Clifton rendered as a call, against tremendous odds, to joy:

come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed

Click through for six recent collections that deliver truth with originality and grace.