This selection for National Poetry Month features Toi Derricotte and accomplished poet and champion of Black poets. She is co-founder of Cave Canem* – the seminal/critical/crucial support organization and network for Black poets.
Black Boys Play the Classics – by Toi Derricotte
The most popular “act” in
is the three black kids in ratty
sneakers & T-shirts playing
two violins and a cello—Brahms.
White men in business suits
have already dug into their pockets
as they pass and they toss in
a dollar or two without stopping.
Brown men in work-soiled khakis
stand with their mouths open,
arms crossed on their bellies
as if they themselves have always
wanted to attempt those bars.
One white boy, three, sits
cross-legged in front of his
their slick, dark faces,
their thin, wiry arms,
who must begin to look
Why does this trembling
A: Beneath the surface we are one.
B: Amazing! I did not think that they could speak this tongue.
(Toi Derricotte, “Black Boys Play the Classics” from Tender.)
*Cave Canem – Founded by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady in 1996 to remedy the under-representation and isolation of African American poets in the literary landscape, Cave Canem Foundation is a home for the many voices of African American poetry and is committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets.
A 501-c-3 non-profit literary service organization with administrative and programming headquarters in Brooklyn, NY, Cave Canem has grown from a gathering of 26 poets to become an influential movement with a renowned faculty, high-achieving national fellowship of over 400 and a workshop community of 900. Our operating budget has increased from $20,000 in 1996 to $450,000 in 2015, with significant grant awards from such funders as Lannan Foundation, Whiting Foundation, New York Community Trust, National Endowment for the Arts, and the University of Pittsburgh.
About National Poetry Month: Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month, held every April, is the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.