Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Two major anthologies include Emerson professor Jabari Asim’s words, welcoming Black History Month

Photo courtesy of Larry D. Moore

“Poemhood: Our Black Revival” and “This is the Honey: An Anthology of Contemporary Black Poets,” two major anthologies of African American poetry, both came out on Jan. 30 in somewhat of a serendipitous way. With various coincidental intersections, Emerson writing, literature & publishing professor Jabari Asim’s work was featured in both anthologies, with alums tagging along with contributions in editing and writing.

Asim’s poem, “Tell Them What You Want,” will appear in “This is the Honey.” In this book, his work is published alongside previous student Rage Hezekiah, and a second piece “Mumble the Magic Words” is included in Emerson alum Amber McBride’s “Poemhood,” an anthology she co-edited with colleagues Erica Martin and Taylor Byas. 

Asim’s outro in “Poemhood” explains how his piece is part of a larger project including works inspired by “the tales of our ancestors who solved the riddle of flight.”

When speaking of his works being selected, Asim explained the distinct feeling you experience as a writer and artist. 

“There’s a degree of validation in it,” he said. “It’s somebody… saying you belong, and this work you’re doing is worth collecting and commemorating.”

Asim uses the lessons he teaches his students in his own practices as a poet, speaking of literature as a “conversation.” 

“An anthology [is] almost an official kind of conversation,” Asim said.“The book is in conversation with other books, but the poems within the anthology are in conversation with each other, and I get to be a part of that.” 

This conversation, present in both anthologies, is that of Black spirituality, pride, history, beauty, pain, and more, strictly through verse and poetry. Emerson alum and now assistant professor at the University of Virginia, McBride, affirms that these discussions can’t be had any other way. 

“Within the Black community, music, poetry, and preaching all go hand in hand,” McBride said. “I know we put these rules around poetry that we’ve decided, but the reality is that our ancestors were poets. The most authentic voice for that felt like poetry.” 

Asim said this poetic language of the Black community and ancestry remains his “first love.” This passion he has for poetry and the written word is something he shares with most of his graduate students, but remembers distinctly from former students McBride and Hezekiah. 

When he recalled McBride reaching out to him for her anthology “Poemhood,” he said, “She was a special student when she got her graduate degree. I’m always happy to hear from her.” 

Asim remembers his other student, Hezekiah, as “brilliant.” 

“I’m excited to be on the same pages as her as well,” he said.

McBride remembers starting “Poemhood” in 2021. So when Kwame Alexander, editor of “This is the Honey,” reached out to her three years later to share that both books were being released on the same date in January, it came as a lovely surprise. 

“I just love that on the same day, we’ve got an adult poetry anthology [and] a young adult poetry anthology,” McBride said. “It just makes me very happy.”

Asim and Alexander’s friendship reaches back 30 years, and he said he greatly admires this close colleague. After Alexander’s recent Emmy win and various other successes, Asim jokingly said he is “happy to ride his coattails.” 

In his time working with other black writers and creatives, Asim is reminded of why he writes. He said that telling a good story comes first in his priorities when writing, but he hopes his work can also affect social change.

“To sometimes advance arguments in behalf of social justice, peace, full equality … have always been goals of mine, and things that the country has never realized,” Asim said.

McBride agreed that important dialogues can be had through poetry. 

“The beauty of poetry is that there is so much conversation in the brevity of it. You can talk about a poem for hours, for years,” she said.

With reviews on both anthologies receiving high accolades, such as Publisher’s Weekly review of “Poemhood” and LitHub’s words on “This is the Honey” in its first week, both anthologies show a promising start to Black History Month. 

Asim attests to using the power of language not only to tell stories, but also to provide an insightful perspective. 

“I want the work that I do to reflect the world that I live in—to be a mirror, but also to be a critique,” Asim said. 

This is a philosophy that Asim has not only carried with him since he started writing, but one he finds necessary. 

“I feel like when we’re in these spaces, we have to take advantage to improve our people’s situation, and we do that with whatever gifts we have,” Asim said. “If I was a painter, that would still be my goal. If I was a dancer, that would be my goal. I happen to be a writer, so I want to use language and letters on behalf of all people, but especially my people. My people first.”

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About the Contributor
Valentina Baez, Staff Writer
Valentina Baez (she/her/hers) is a Venezuelan-American student journalist from Miami, FL. Her Journalism Major coupled with her minor in Political Science has provided her with an understanding of the intersectional news coverage she’s interested in. She is currently the beat reporter for the Emerson College Student’s Union and occasionally likes to write other stories for the news section. She is a Junior and will be graduating early in August of 2024.

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