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6 Activist Poets Who Inspire Contemplation, Connection, and Change

Sheena Daree Miller

A book, broken chains, a dove, and a megaphone, symbolizing breaking free through art.
Illustration by Marian Blair

Throughout history, in moments of doubt, artists and writers have confronted despair and uncertainty with their creativity and words. Now is no different. Below are six contemporary poets whose words of contemplation, connection and change will not only provide comfort and help you endure uncertain times, but also urge you to reflect on how you can show compassion to and serve your community. 

Alexis Pauline Gumbs

“these are the times

when words need carpenters

think out loud reshaping

into places to sit and meet

and walk and not fall through”

Alexis Pauline Gumbs’ transportative poetry calls attention to dreams, families, sustenance and persistence. Turn to her when you long to be reminded of how connected and resilient we all are

Joy Harjo

“The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun. 

It sees and knows everything.” 

Joy Harjo, the first Native American poet laureate in the US, has undeniably shifted our understanding of what poetry is and who gets to write it. Her work is personal, direct, spiritual and raw. Let her voice accompany you when it’s courage you seek, and don’t miss her list of ways to support artists and Native communities during the crisis. 

Tiffany Higgins

“I desire to say that I, I

would do it differently

I would be the bee, bloomed

with pesticide” 

Writer and translator Tiffany Higgins’ lyrical words shed light on worlds near and far, real and imagined. Turn to her in those moments when you want to feel more connected to your surroundings, community and planet. 

Yayoi Kusama

“To COVID-19 that stands in our way

I say Disappear from this earth

We shall fight

We shall fight this terrible monster

Yayoi Kusama gets straight to the point in calling for us to collectively stand up against COVID-19. Yayoi’s sculpture, painting, film, writing and other art all speak to defiance and the surreal. In her own words, she creates “art for the healing of all mankind.”  

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

“When I hear us dream our futures,

believe we will make it to one,

We will make one.

The future lives in our bodies” 

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s work centers disability, belonging, home, justice, and bodies, pushing us to look honestly at the spaces we occupy, and the means through which we occupy them. Read her work not only to find hope, but to learn what to do with that hope. 

Claudia Rankine

“Exactly why we survive and can look back with furrowed brow is beyond me. It is not something to know” 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we’re balancing reopening measures with the continued need for social distancing—and it becomes clearer and clearer that there is so little that we know. Claudia Rankine’s stunning, genre-defying poetry explores intimacy, identity and survival in a manner that allows for infinite truths. The poet and playwright’s words are a meditation in embracing uncertainty. 

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Sheena Daree Miller

Sheena Daree Miller is based in Brooklyn and divides her time between working in faculty development at a university and managing a black heritage center at a library. She is committed to promoting equity, with an emphasis on supporting graduating students and career changers.

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