Book Acquired Recently: Stand Our Ground: Poems for Trayvon Martin & Marissa Alexander

Osayande, Ewuare X., ed. Stand Our Ground: Poems for Trayvon Martin & Marissa Alexander. Philadelphia: FreedomSeed, 2013.

I received this anthology from my father, who works with Osayande at Mennonite Central Committee. I am incredibly excited to read it, as it looks to be an important addition to the long tradition of politically-activist poetry anthologies (Sam Hamill’s Poets Against the War is another relatively recent example) as well as to the rich tradition of African American anthologies in that it responds to America’s ongoing racism, although not all of the contributors are black.

Stand Our Ground includes poets from all over the world, though most are from the U.S. Impressively, the book’s list of contributors is quite democratic, including work by well-known authors such as Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Haki Madhubuti, and Askia Touré alongside work by a few writers with hardly any publishing history, and all levels in between. Kudos to Baraka, et al. for contributing to this project, because I am sure FreedomSeed Press did not have money to pay any kind of substantial rights fees. Osayande and FreedomSeed also deserve praise for putting the book together so quickly. All of the proceeds from sales of the book go to either Martin’s family or Alexander’s continued fight for justice.

I was flipping through the book last night, and read Baraka’s poem “I liked us better,” which reads like a piece from his Black Arts Movement heyday (my favorite period of his work), asserting that “I liked us better when we were / shouting and marching and intent // On changing everything. I liked us better when we / didn’t dig white people so much” (35). I love that though he is almost 80, Baraka is still speaking uncomfortable truth to power unabashedly. I love that he refuses to back down, and that he takes pride in the fact that he was so controversial as the poet laureate of New Jersey that the state abolished the position rather than keep him around. His inclusion in Stand Our Ground, along with that of the other luminaries mentioned above, shows that poets can still be relevant as prophets, that literature still has a role to play in the fight for positive social change. Stand Our Ground is an important book that everyone should read.

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