Poetry As Church


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Tomorrow is Independence Day and after the past couple of weeks (really couple of forevers), it’s paradoxical to celebrate freedom when a lot of us aren’t sure when we walk out the door, that we will make it home alive, if we make it home at all. It’s a strange thing to mourn while others celebrate around you. I don’t go to church often, but I went after the Charleston massacre, on Father’s Day to my local AME church, and it reminded me that this is a space where contradicting truths can stop fighting and just be. In this space, you can be thankful for the good that has happened and still mourn the lives that have been lost and know that one doesn’t cancel out the other. This post is in the format of my church service’s program. There’s nothing about needing to believe in anything but the power of words here. It’s a place where, at least for a little while, you can mourn and celebrate and anything and everything in between. Thank you for reading.

Today’s Focus is answering Richard Siken’s question as posed in his poem, Snow and Dirty Rain:

“Do we simply stare at what’s horrible and forgive it?”

“The answer you find is that the only place where a dark child can be free is in their mind–and even then, not all of us.” – Maurice Tracy

Let’s look into that a little further.


Proclamation of Faith: A clear declaration of belief

“When our worlds are rocked by terror, support can steady us, and sometimes save us.” – from Show Up, White America: The Opposite Of Support Is Silence

The only way to get through this is together, through community. That’s why we put this post together.


Invocation: Petitioning or Supplication for Aid

“To unravel a torment, you must begin somewhere.” – Louise Bourgeois


Praise Music Selections

“No one can escape suffering, but some can speak through it.” – James Kerr


(Black Privilege by Crystal Valentine)



(Ask a Black Dude by Gabriel Green)



(Whistling Vivaldi by McKendy Fils-Aime)



(Target by Anthony Ragler)



(Open Letter to Black People in Horror Movies by Omar Holmon and Anthony Ragler)



(Angry Black Woman by Porsha O.)



(Grief by Julian Randall)



(Dark Skin by Tova Charles)



(Da Rules by Marvin Hodges, Em Allison, and Saidu Tejan-Thomas)

Lessons and Readings
Written word to empower and educate

  1. alternate names for black boys by Danez Smith
  2. Citizen: An American Lyric
  3. Your White Friends Cannot Save You by Hari Ziyad
  4. Writing Race the Day After Charleston by Naomi Munaweera
  5. That Transformative Dark Thing by Alexis Gumbs
  6. After Charleston to be Young, Black, Gifted, and Alive by Maurice Tracy
  7. Poetry is not a Luxury: Poetry as Power by Kiki Nicole
  8. Poetry is not a Luxury: Poetry as Survival by Kristina Haynes
  9. Poetry as Grief by Clifton Gachagua
  10. Revolutionary Hope: A Conversation between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde

Tithes: Pay or Give (Attention)

  1. Reverse Racism by Aamer Rahman (Fear of a Brown Planet)

Invitation to Worship
Resources to expand on and celebrate Black Voices

  1. Winter Tangerine Review’s Hands Up, Don’t Shoot Edition
  2. Black Poets Speak Out Tumblr
  3. Open letter to White Poets by Danez Smith
  4. Huffington Post Black Voices
  5. for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntzozake Shange
  6. The Black Poets: A New Anthology edited by Dudley Randall
  7. The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop edited by Kevin Covall, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and Nate Marshall

Benediction: The Utterance or Bestowing of a Blessing
Final Words

Charleston Shooting: Speaking the Unspeakable, Thinking the Unthinkable by Charles P. Pierce

“We do this because the world we live in is a house on fire and the people we love are burning.” – Sandra Cisneros on Writing

“We must resist. We must refuse to disappear.” – Margaret Atwood

I cannot answer the question of whether we forgive or not. I, right now, am in no place to forgive anyone without causing harm to myself. But I can tell you this: we are not meant to just stare at the horrible. We are called to act. And that comes in many forms: talking, listening, healing, creating. Poetry can heal. Poetry can be activism.

Please resist. Don’t let yourself disappear.


Contributing Editor

Alexis Smithers is a twenty one year old explosion of messes. They are queer black writer that was published in a book about how horses heal (Wild at Heart by Heather Kirby), and has work that can be found on theEEEL. Fun facts: they tied a pillowcase to their back and tried to fly after seeing Sky High, their mantra can be found in Wreck-It Ralph, The Babadook, or Orphan Black (depending on the day) and they’re terrified of mostly everything but art makes the fear easier to hold.