14 Works of Poetry That Will Move You

A reading list that includes Nikki Giovanni, Lucille Clifton, Morgan Parker, and more

Photo: Marisa9/Getty Images

“P“Poetry is a matter of life, not just a matter of language,” poet Lucille Clifton once said. In celebration of National Poetry Month, the editors of ZORA are highlighting poetic masterworks by Black women from the ZORA Canon that are contemplative, spirit-shifting, and healing. These books below prove that the power of poetry isn’t solely in the words. The power also lies in how it moves you.

Maud Martha

by Gwendolyn Brooks (1953)

Gwendolyn Brooks’ only novel, Maud Martha is a prose poem coming-of-age story about a girl growing up in the Black neighborhoods of Chicago.

Selected Poems

by Gwendolyn Brooks (1963)

A fine poetry collection in which Gwendolyn Brooks injects the English language with as much Blackness as possible. She undermines expectations “poem after poem,” says Pulitzer prize-winning critic and professor Margo Jefferson.

The Black Woman: An Anthology

by Toni Cade Bambara (1970)

A delightful anthology of poetry, short stories, and essays that “set the agenda for women’s roles in the Black liberation struggles of the early 1970s,” says Malaika Adero, a former vice president and senior editor for Atria Books at Simon & Schuster.

We a BaddDDD People

by Sonia Sanchez (1970)

A poetry collection that rejects literary convention, We a BadddDDD People “challenges Black people to stand up to the enemy within as well as without,” Adero says.

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf

by Ntozake Shange (1976)

The story of seven women, all assigned a particular color, who navigate an oppressive society. “As poems on the page and choreopoetry on the stage, they’re achingly lyric and alive, with ceaseless rhythmic and harmonic variety,” Jefferson says.

I’ve Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems

by Sonia Sanchez (1978)

Political, sexual, and thoroughly human, this is a poetry collection for the ages.

Blacks

by Gwendolyn Brooks (1987)

A comprehensive collection of all — yes, all — of the prolific and critically acclaimed poet’s writings over a span of 30 years.

The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni: 1968–1995

(1996)

A compilation of Nikki Giovanni’s poetry that spans more than half a century. “Giovanni’s work challenges what we think we know of the world, how we see the world, and how we understand ourselves,” says author and English professor Jesmyn Ward.

Directed by Desire: The Collected Poems of June Jordan

edited by Jan Heller Levi and Sara Miles (2005)

A collection of June Jordan’s poems that covers 10 volumes of her words, as well as 70 pieces written while she was dying from breast cancer.

Native Guard

by Natasha Trethewey (2006)

Natasha Tretheway’s Pulitzer prize-winning poetry collection pays homage to Black soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the Civil War. Fellow Mississippian Ward says, “Tretheway breaks the reader’s heart with every line. Each poem has such artistry, such intention, such surprise, and focus.”

Blood Dazzler

by Patricia Smith (2008)

A poetry collection that gives voice to the survivors, both real and imagined, of Hurricane Katrina: politicians, nursing home residents, and families seeking refuge at the Superdome.

The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton

edited by Kevin Young and Michael S. Glaser (2012)

Lucille Clifton is a writer who “constantly subverts the reader’s ideas of what language is capable of,” Ward says. This collection is a combination of 11 volumes of her work, as well as more than 50 never-before-published poems.

Brown Girl Dreaming

by Jacqueline Woodson (2014)

This series of poems chronicles Woodson’s experiences in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s and ’70s under Jim Crow and with the civil rights movement.

Magical Negro

by Morgan Parker (2019)

A poetry collection from the prolific writer that praises, upends, and defies expectations of Black womanhood.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store