10 Black Spec Poems That Invoke Madness

There are many forms of madness, one of them is love.

Ten poems, in no particular order, that you will love.

1.) Heredity – Tatiana Johnson

Boston-area writer, Tatiana Johnson delivers a masterful, haunting poem that is both speculative in premise and inseparable from Black lived experience. Originally published by PANK, Heredity is the third poem down and straight on until morning.


2.) Mami Wata – Goddess of Clear Blue – Linda Addison

Linda Addison, whew! Where to begin? She’s a three-time winner of the HWA Bram Stoker Award, and in 2020, the recipient of the HWA Bram Stoker Superior Achievement in Poetry Award. She edited and chaired the 2018 Rhysling Anthology (which featured that gorgeous Black mermaid btw,) and her poem “Mourning Meal” is the inspiration for the short film by Jamal Hodge.

In this video performance, Linda summons the Mami Wata, that vast and powerful feminine entity to which tenderness, lust, wealth, luck, and the elusive sea is tied. Mami Wata, sometimes depicted with the lower body of a snake, sometimes a fish is a deity who has remained relevant from deep time in coastal West African cultures and in the African diaspora.

3.) My God, it’s Full of Stars – Tracy K. Smith

There is no shortage of praise for this poem by former Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith. Many commentaries and analyses exist across the interweb of human conversation, and may these continue through the ages for this is a mighty work. What many may miss is how this poem about a people who can only call this universe home and yet are still strangers to it is also an apt metaphor for Blackness. On its face, the poem speaks to a human race unable to comprehend what it is a part of, read a little deeper and it can speak to a “race” that humanity cannot seem to fully comprehend as a part of itself. When you read the final line with this thought, it invokes a new kind of wonder.


4.) Drop Some Amens – Brandon O’Brien

It is said that a poem is a thing that always casts two shadows, but this poem by Trinidadian poet, game designer, and poetry editor at FIYAH, Brandon O’Brien, casts many more. To say that the work of Brandon O’Brien is understated in discussions about speculative poetry is an understatement. Each couplet here levels its own complexity, dropping an unexpected panoramic view of Black lived experience, managing to surprise and re-direct. Do yourself a poetic favor, read this poem from Brandon and then, once you’re done, go read this other poem by James Baldwin and let them both rattle around inside you.

It’s a link so nice we had to post it twice: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/drop-some-amens/

5.) Rite – Henry Dumas

In 1968, a New York City Transit police officer emptied a piece of lead into the chest of a poet who wrote about the killings of innocent black men by white police officers. That bullet robbed the world of many things, a father, a husband, an Airmen, a teacher, and it also robbed the speculative poetry world of what might have come. By the time of his death at just 33 years old, Henry Dumas had already created a powerful collection of poetry chock full of science fiction and fantasy. His work was mostly published posthumously, his death passed unmentioned except for that the shooting had been a case of mistaken identity.

His poem Rite invokes that mighty Orisha and king, Shango, the spirit of lightning, social resistance, and fire. And all the people said, “Vive, Shango!”


6.) Mystery of the Five Houses – Soonest Nathaniel

Keep your eye out for Nigerian poet, Soonest Nathaniel. Not only is he bearer of an amazing name, but he’s also a scientist living in Lagos. His work is prodigious and word on the street says he has a book of poems on the way. Here is his poem Mystery of the Five Houses originally published in The Pedestal Magazine. It is rich with mythic language: the keeper of storms, the children of rain, the house of silence, and also Peter Pan. Enjoy.


7.) A Conversation… – Woody Dismukes

You’ve read Woody Dismukes, yes? This Brazilian-American writer’s work has been featured in publications such as Strange Horizons, Apex, Lightspeed, FIYAH, and so many more. This fantastic piece of poetry, “A CONVERSATION BETWEEN THE EMBALMED HEADS OF LAMPIƃO AND MARIA BONITA ON PUBLIC DISPLAY AT THE BAIANO STATE FORENSIC INSTITUTE, CIRCA MID-20TH CENTURY” really is a conversation between two embalmed heads, a conversation which might highlight, for some, how we can’t see past our dramas and see our own deaths clearly.

8.) After Jack – Destine Carrington

In this brief but darkly delightful poem, Destine Carrington cracks her knuckles and flexes those loved speculative poetry devices of allusion and retelling. After Jack is what came tumbling after that whole famous episode our mothers warned us about a thousand times when we were young. https://underwoodpress.com/ruescribe/2019/04/03/two-poems-by-destine-carrington/

Read Electric Arches, by Eve L. Ewing

9.) Seeing the dead walk again is a theme buried deep within the human psyche. We have dying and rising gods, zombies, resurrections, and horror poems of reanimated corpses galore, each offers its own acute insight into the human condition and the concerns of the living. But what happens when you see the dead walking at the grocery store? And what if that dead is none other than Emmett Till? The banality of it all is weft with meaning so deep and so resonant, it makes a sonic boom after it hits.

I saw Emmett Till this week at the grocery store – Eve L. Ewing

10.) Transfiguration – Wekpe Ruru

Hailing from Aningeje, Nigeria, this poet and geologist has penned our last but certainly not least offering. Transfiguration is a breathtaking, mind-bending assault on the senses invoking nothing less than the interconnection of all of life and the roots and futures of the mythic and the actual, too.


New to THE SPECk? Want more? Go to this happy place and subscribe for THE SPECk, the SFPA Insider Newsletter. It’s free. https://mailchi.mp/d1224ca996e9/thespeck

The SFPA is a global poetry organization supported and sustained by its members. It is celebrating its 42nd anniversary. Becoming a member of the SFPA not only helps us continue to connect speculative poetry to the world, but is also comes with some pretty cool benefits.

Joining is easy! Visit: http://sfpoetry.com/join.html


2 thoughts on “10 Black Spec Poems That Invoke Madness

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.