Poetry Month

‘General James Bethune and John Bethune Introduce Blind Tom’

Tyehimba Jess has just won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry!

'General James Bethune and John Bethune Introduce Blind Tom'

Blind Tom

April is National Poetry month and we’re celebrating by featuring examples of “civic” poetry from new and familiar voices. Throughout the month we’ll be discussing what it means to be civic through the art of words. Join us on Twitter at #civicpoetry.

Today’s featured author, Tyehimba Jess just won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.



General James Bethune and John Bethune Introduce Blind Tom



Tyehimba Jess has been described as the “rare poet who bridges slam and academic poetry.” His recent book, Olio — which won the Pulitzer prize for poetry this week — “weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African-American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War I. Olio is an effort to understand how they met, resisted, complicated, co-opted, and sometimes defeated attempts to minstrelize them.”

In a journaling project he completed for the Poetry Foundation in 2006, he wrote about some of his favorite poets, including Rev. James Lowery, who Jess gave a shout out to after Lowery read a poem protesting the Bush administration at Coretta Scott King’s funeral. Said Lowery:

“We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there.
But Coretta knew and we knew that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance.
Poverty abounds.
For war, billions more,
but no more for the poor.”

In reflecting on Lowery’s words, Jess wrote:

When you hear lie after lie after lie after lie, it is so refreshing to hear the truth spoken aloud. Isn’t that part of the job of poetry? To bring us closer toward a better understanding of the world? And how can we do that if we allow ourselves, as poets, to uncritically accept the astounding level of hypocrisy, greed and ghoulish, garish, orgiastic greed that has churned out of the White House, particularly in the past long, ugly six years? I mean, if we aren’t in some way digging up the truth, then why don’t we all just chuck it in and go into advertising? I hear the pay is a LOT better!

You can read more of Tyehimba Jess’s work at the Poetry Foundation website and Jess’s personal website.

This project was co-curated by the journalism nonprofit the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and its Puffin Story Innovation Fund.

Tyehimba Jess

Tyehimba Jess is the winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, for Olio. Published in 2016, Olio also won the Ainsfield-Wolf Book Award and was selected as one of the five best poetry books of 2016. Jess’ book Leadbelly was a winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. A Cave Canem and NYU alum, he received a 2004 literature fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts. Jess is poetry and fiction editor of African American Review and associate professor of English at College of Staten Island. Follow him on Twitter: @TyehimbaJess.