Poets Are Leaders

I guess it’s funny that I feel more comfortable calling myself a leader than an artist. I came across this poem by Maya Angelou and realized that you can’t be a poet without being a leader.

A Conceit

Give me your hand

Make room for me
to lead and follow
beyond this rage of poetry.

Let others have
the privacy of
touching words
and love of loss
of love.

For me
Give me your hand.

Perhaps it does take a bit of conceit to think your experiences, dreams and passions could be instructive to someone else. Of course, many of us may not intend to lead with our works. We create because something in us needs freedom and form. We know if we tried to contain it, we would implode. Still, our work takes people on a journey that they wouldn’t have taken or even known about if we had not used those words, colors or sounds. Obvious politics or not, art is leadership. It can take us to scary places within ourselves or drag us out into the sunshine.

Our personal creations are the evidence of our courage and unity. It is always a risk to write, but the fact that it may be received by someone on a similar journey makes it worthwhile.

Warrior poet Audre Lorde once said:

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”

I was recently speaking with some friends about why we do not share certain creative pieces with people. I wish I had mentioned Audre Lorde then. She makes my voice move when it needs to and motivated me to share the piece below. This poem came about after I received a big career opportunity based on my performance, but still felt like a little girl scared to show her face.


When I have nothing
to prove.

When I have nothing
to hide.

I will be free.

Toni Cade Bambara tells us,  “The job of the writer is to make the revolution irresistible.”  She also explains, “Revolution begins with the self, in the self.”

Which poets lead you? Where do they lead you? Do they make change irresistible?

7 responses to “Poets Are Leaders

  1. Nikki Giovanni started me. Something about the straight-forward-ness about her poetry made me believe I could be a poet too.

    I would like Lucille Clifton to be my next leader. She packs in meaning in concise poems.

  2. I took a poetry class a couple of semesters ago and was empowered by all of the truly creative and visionary voices out there. I was especially taken with the work of Elizabeth Alexander. Her book “The Venus Hottentot” should be an inspiration for all of us.

  3. i really love “Then”

  4. Oh, I have so many favorites. But a couple that are really my “leaders” are Saul Williams and the late Allen Ginsberg.

    Saul Williams is primarily a spoken word poet, but his words, I feel, transcend the genre. For example, check out his poem “Sha-Clack-Clack.”

    Ginsberg is probably better known; my favorite work of his is “Howl,” as disturbing and intense as it is. It moves me…

  5. I love “Then” too – thank you for sharing it!

    For me, Eliot, always, because of his way of showing the link between poetry and fiction. His Journey of the Magi had a profound effect on my writing.

  6. I’d like to share a poem that I’ve liked since high school. Funny thing is, I completely forgot that it was a poem by Audre Lorde. I think that’s because at the time I fell in love with it, I didn’t know who Audre Lorde was. We’d had an English substitute teacher who was still in college, who gave us several poems to analyze. We were supposed to pick our favorite.

    I remember reading this poem and knowing instantly that it was written by a black person without knowing the author. It was probably because she used words like “ashy”, but even more because I felt like she understood me. When I read the poem to my Mom, she thought that I had written it myself.

    What I liked the most about the poem is that I felt it captured the quiet desperation of a fourteen-year-old. I was around the same age at the time, and I knew well the obsession with boys, your appearance, and even your own mortality.

    I won’t just talk it up. You can read it for yourself, if you’d like.


    Hanging Fire


    I am fourteen
    and my skin has betrayed me   
    the boy I cannot live without   
    still sucks his thumb
    in secret
    how come my knees are
    always so ashy
    what if I die
    before morning
    and momma’s in the bedroom   
    with the door closed.

    I have to learn how to dance   
    in time for the next party   
    my room is too small for me   
    suppose I die before graduation   
    they will sing sad melodies   
    but finally
    tell the truth about me
    There is nothing I want to do   
    and too much
    that has to be done
    and momma’s in the bedroom   
    with the door closed.

    Nobody even stops to think   
    about my side of it
    I should have been on Math Team   
    my marks were better than his   
    why do I have to be
    the one
    wearing braces
    I have nothing to wear tomorrow   
    will I live long enough
    to grow up
    and momma’s in the bedroom   
    with the door closed.

  7. Thanks everyone for your kind comments and recommendations. I’m definitely checking out Lucille Clifton, Elizabeth Alexander, Eliot and Allen Ginsberg are leaders I’m going to get better acquainted with…

    @Ciara C.

    I like this poem by Audre Lorde too. I never thought about it in terms of mortality, so I’m happy you drew my attention to it.

    In adolescence everything does feel so real and serious, but the grown folks will tell you it’s not. When you can’t make sense of things, it does feel like your world is ending.

    The line I’m really feeling is:

    There is nothing I want to do
    and too much
    that has to be done

    This definitely still resonates with me.

    I don’t think poems need to be dissected all the time like specimens, but I do wonder what she means by “momma’s in the bedroom with the door closed.” I take it to mean, I wish I had my mother to help me through this, but she’s going through her own issues and a closed door means do not disturb.

    Thanks for sharing everyone!

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