Poetry, Valentine’s Day & Black History Month

Valentine’s Day has its origins in spiritual devotion rather than romantic love. St Valentine had been imprisoned and later executed for his beliefs during the Roman empire in the third century AD, and was later made a saint by Pope Gelasius in 496 AD. One legend is that Saint Valentine performed a miracle by restoring the sight of his jail-keeper’s blind daughter.

As Mary Oliver noted, poetic attention is devotional. And devotion transcends romantic love. Celebrating love through poetry can go beyond February 14, and beyond the expected romantic rites and words. The world —individuals or families who are suffering from poverty, isolation, and marginalization, communities experiencing war or the climate crisis, our ecosystems, our biosphere–could definitely use more love and devotion these days.

Junie Désil
Chantal Gibson
Tolu Oloruntoba

I thought it would be good to celebrate some local Black poets this month with an article highlighting a few of their poems, given that February is Black History Month, and Valentine’s day is coming up.

Junie wrote a brand new poem—and in sestina form! Kudos to her for mastering this complex French form with its pattern of repeated words. It is powerful and incantatory, and I love how it incorporates an epigraph about love and justice by philosopher, activist and social critic Dr. Cornel West.

Tolu offered six possible poems and we decided on a new, unpublished one about his grandmother and newborn daughter. The poem braids together joy and grief and duty. The declarative sentences, the repetition, the intimacy, the honesty–all come together to create a memorable and resonant piece.

Chantal provided a poem about ancestors from her new collection, with/holding which establishes a transformative connection between past and present. Great play on words with the title, ”Add Hominem”! Let us strive to restore humanity to those who have been dehumanized, excluded and defamed.