|By Kanisha Parks|
If we’re going to talk about poetry, we have to go back—to Harlem, the 1920’s. Back to Langston Hughes and his weary blues, back to Claude McKay and his black man rage. I’m talking about rhyme and rhythm, music and tone; brokenness, hopelessness, sorrow, and pain. I’m talking about the Harlem Renaissance, which is (arguably) one the most essential movements of American poetry. In all honesty, if it weren’t for the Harlem Renaissance, I’m not sure I’d be a poet today.
The Harlem Renaissance was, “A period of musical, literary, and cultural proliferation that began in New York’s African-American community during the 1920’s and early 1930’s. I first learned about the movement in middle school and had the opportunity to study it more in-depth during college. I fell in love with these poets, their plight, and their determination to make their voices heard despite the deplorable conditions they were living in at the time. One of my favorite poems of the era is Countee Cullen’s “Incident:”
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, ‘Nigger.’
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.
I remember feeling amazed at how in just a few short lines, I went from feeling hopeful to helpless, just like the writer and I thought to myself, “Wow. This is so incredibly moving.” His poetry didn’t tell me how to feel but it made me feel something. I learned so much from studying the poets and poems of the Harlem Renaissance, which cemented my love for poetry and its ability to inspire and promote change.
I wrote my first poem when I was ten years old and it was about how much I truly loved God. From then on, I started writing Christian poetry, which is simply poetry that explores various topics of Christianity—God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, faith, love, and anything discussed in the Bible. Most of my poems center around what it means to be a Christian and how to make it in this world, while some come from God’s perspective, revealing how much He truly loves and cares about us.
I write poems that can accompany you through every season of this faith journey that is the Christian life.
Yet it’s amazing how, at a time when we have much more creative freedom than the Harlem Renaissance poets, it appears that poetry has “died.” Although this is a sentiment that I wholeheartedly disagree with, I must recognize the truth about the current state of poetry. And realistically, poetry has become one of those art forms that a lot of people appreciate—from a distance. It’s like, “Yeah, poetry sounds nice and all, but do I really want to buy an entire book of it? Nah.”
And yes, I’ve heard and read many a negative remark about Christian poetry: that it ‘sucks,’ isn’t deep enough, doesn’t resonate with the average person, or it doesn’t sell. You’ll be hard pressed to find a book publisher interested in producing poetry at all, let alone Christian poetry. Some poets like me choose to self-publish, others just share their poems with family and friends.
So that leaves the question—why do I write Christian poetry?
Just like Harlem Renaissance poetry, Christian poetry has meaning and purpose. Similar to many of the Psalms and encouraging verses of the Bible, Christian poetry has the unique ability to lift you up out of your current circumstance and redirect your attentions upon God, so reading and writing poetry helps me keep my mind on God. I also write poetry because I know it pleases God, and it helps me see the good in any and every situation, like Paul suggests in Philippians 4:8:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”