TCS: Poems for Black Women in Jazz & the Arts Day

Good Morning!


Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.


I walked into the palaces of kings and queens
and into the houses of presidents. And much more.
But I could not walk into a hotel in America and
get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad.

– Josephine Baker


March is National Women’s History Month in the U.S., and the first day of March links Women’s History with February’s National Black History Month.

Pearl Bailey. Josephine Baker. Ella Fitzgerald. Aretha Franklin. Billie Holiday. Lena Horne.  Etta James. Eartha Kitt. Nina Simone. Bessie Smith. Sarah Vaughn.

There’s a very long list of legendary black women singers, and each name conjures up a particular kind of magic.

So here’s to all of them, the legends – and to all the ones we never knew.



by Margaret Walker

My grandmothers were strong.
They followed plows and bent to toil.
They moved through fields sowing seed.
They touched earth and grain grew.
They were full of sturdiness and singing.
My grandmothers were strong.

My grandmothers are full of memories
Smelling of soap and onions and wet clay
With veins rolling roughly over quick hands
They have many clean words to say.
My grandmothers were strong.
Why am I not as they?

“Lineage” from This is My Century: New and Collected Poems, © 1989 by Margaret Walker – University of Georgia Press

Margaret Walker (1915-1998) American poet and novelist; she was the first Black woman to win the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award for her poetry collection, For My People. Her novel Jubilee was lauded in a Washington Post review as “the first truly historical black American novel,” and is also considered the first work published by a black writer that speaks out for the liberation of black women. It was inspired by bedtime stories her grandmother told her about the “slavery time” especially during the life of her grandmother’s mother.


won’t you celebrate with me

by Lucille Clifton

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

“won’t you celebrate with me” from Book of Light, © 1993 by Lucille Clifton –
Copper Canyon Press


by Lucille Clifton

for elaine philip on her birthday

 me and you be sisters.
we be the same.
me and you
coming from the same place.
me and you
be greasing our legs
touching up our edges.
me and you
be scared of rats
be stepping on roaches.
me and you
come running high down purdy street one time
and mama laugh and shake her head at
me and you.
me and you
got babies
got thirty-five
got black
let our hair go back
be loving ourselves
be loving ourselves
be sisters.
only where you sing
i poet.

“sisters” from The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton, © 1987 by Lucille Clifton – BOA Editions, Ltd.

Lucille Clifton (1936-2010) American poet and children’s author, whose poetry was first published by Langston Hughes in his anthology The Poetry of the Negro in 1970. She won the 1996 Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, the 2000 National Book Award for Poetry for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, and the 2007 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Her many poetry collections include Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir,  Next: New Poems, and Two-Headed Woman, which were all nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.


The Spirituals speak

by Monica Hand

With their many tongues, we were the one language
       they could each speak
Even the masters understood underneath hump and hale,
       labor of the load
We healed the numbing made

Even when she abandoned us for the music of bars and sex,
       you could hear
Spirit in her sway, watch her feet remember stomping
Her body ring shouts

We made her we un-troubled the waters became her balm in Gilead
A deep down light in her darkest days we a band of angels
Come to take her home

 “The Spirituals speak” from me and Nina, © 2012 by Monica Hand – Alice James Books

Monica Hand (1953-2016) American poet, author of The DiVida Poems and me and Nina, which won the 2010 Kinereth Gensler Award. After a thirty-two-year career with the U.S. Postal Service, she received an MA in poetry and translation from Drew University in 2011. In 2012 she moved to Columbia, Missouri, to pursue a PhD at the University of Missouri. Hand received a fellowship from Cave Canem and served as a founding member of the poetry collective Poets for Ayiti. She died at age 63 in 2016.



 by Rita Dove

      for Michael S. Harper

Billie Holiday’s burned voice
had as many shadows as lights,
a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,
the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.

(Now you’re cooking, drummer to bass,
magic spoon, magic needle.
Take all day if you have to
with your mirror and your bracelet of song.)

Fact is, the invention of women under siege
has been to sharpen love in the service of myth.

If you can’t be free, be a mystery.

 “Canary” from Grace Notes, © 1989 by Rita Dove – W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Rita Dove (1952  – ) American poet; winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her book Thomas and Beulah; U.S. Library of Congress Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, 1993-1995, the first African-American (after the title change from Poetry Consultant to Poet Laureate), and at age 40, the youngest poet to be appointed Poet Laureate by the Librarian of Congress. Her poetry collections include The Yellow House on the Corner, Mother Love, On the Bus With Rosa Parks, and American Smooth.


About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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