Michigan’s Poet Laureate Nandi Comer: Using poetry to uplift a community
“I feel like I have something to say. I feel like I have a group of people that I am representing.”
LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - During the Civil Rights Movement, experts said Black poets used their words to show pride and to honor those lost during the fight for freedom. Now, Michigan’s first poet laureate in 60 years uses her words to empower Black experiences today.
Nandi Comer is a Cave Canem Fellow, a Callaloo Fellow, and a 2019 Kresge Arts in Detroit Fellow. She directs the Allied Media Projects Seeds Program and is the author of American Family: A Syndrome and Tapping Out. She will serve as the poet laureate in Michigan for the next two years.
Comer reads: “a woman with dark skin, as in, if the Spanish girl is blanquita and the Indian girl is morena, then you are definitely negrita. As in, although the baby was born negrita, she is still very pretty...”
Negrita. A Black woman.
“Being a Black woman definitely shows up in my writing. It is a part of my identity. It is a part of the life that I live. And also, it’s really important to me that Black women have voices to look to.”
Drawing its inspiration from musical sounds like gospel, blues, jazz, and rap, Comer said Black poetry was used to praise freedom fighters, honor fallen leaders, and offer wisdom and strength. She said she feels obligated to use her voice to tell the unique, Black experience. “I feel like I have something to say. I feel like I have a group of people that I am representing that has an experience that is universal that I think everyone can learn from.”
Comer said she’s happy that Juneteenth has become a national, now federal, holiday. “One that recognizes, again, the rich history of African Americans. It is not only a moment, a story of survival but, it’s a moment of celebration.”
Comer reads: “I woke with a word on my tongue, slap. Unsure of how to loosen its stiff sound tacked on my voice, slap.”
Trapped voices breaking free using paper and pencil. “From the moment that we have our first writings of African Americans in this country, we have definitely the Slave Narratives of folks that were enslaved. But then we have our first poets.”
And they wrote poems about the Civil Rights Movement, too. Poems Comer said are still teaching – not just the Black community but, anyone who wants to learn. She said that Black poets have a unique opportunity today, to share their work to a broader audience.
A broader, diverse audience tuning into Black voices that are calling for change.
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