I was recently reading the title poem from Angel C. Dye's Breathe (2021), and I started thinking about the convergence of ideas and artistic worlds that make a piece like this one possible. The kinds of poetry. The discussions and debates about black women and girls. The recognition of unconventional figures. The acknowledgement of inner struggles. All that in one black poem.
On the one hand, the spirit of the poem connects to spoken word--the repetitions, the hook, the alliteration, and the subject matter. At the same time, I encountered the work in this book of distinctly literary poems. Dye is versatile like that.
The poem is comprised of five parts, each beginning with a common refrain: "I breathe for black girls / who came to the realization that they were black girls / by being told it was the wrong thing to be," and "I breathe for black girls who names we gotta chant and march for / to make they remembered," and later, "I breathe for black girls who unconventional."
Each section addresses different kinds of black girls and women. Remember Margaret Walker's famous poem "For My People"? Well, here, Dye is offering that, but for black girls. She connects the dots among all these different folks.
Early on, Dye notes that she's breathing for those who "Don't know whether they deaf or insane / from the screams slamming doors in the hallways of they minds." Here, the considerations of black women's mental health took me back to the coverage of that subject in Jae Nichelle's "Friends with Benefits." Dye, Jae Nichelle, and many others are taking us in new directions within black poetry along those lines.
Dye takes up the topics of mental health and healing a little more in other poems, notably with her piece "Resisting Self-Diagnosis on the Road to Healing." The poem includes several directives, opening with an important one: "The first thing to remember is to forget / the word crazy." That line had me trying to remind myself of so many other words to forget as well. Hey, that's another story.
"Breathe" is by a poet who looks at, sees, hears, listens to, studies, communes with, and continuously thinks about black women. It's a poem by someone who envisions speaking to and being heard by black women. These qualities of subject and audience are noteworthy.
You'd be surprised at how many poets and poems overlook black women audiences. We know of many black women poets, and we know of many award-winning ones. Yes. But what I'm saying is that we have fewer poems for (representing) and for (directed at) black women in the way offered here by Dye.Related: