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Migration Letters: Poems

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A poetry collection that reflects on intimate aspects of Black history, culture, and identity, revealing an uncommon gaze on working-class Philadelphia from the 1960s to the present day

In 55 poems, Migration Letters straddles the personal and public with particular, photorealistic detail to identify what, over time, creating a home creates in ourselves. Drawn from her experiences of being born in Philadelphia into a Black family and a Black culture transported from the American South by the Great Migration, M. Nzadi Keita's poetry sparks a profoundly hybrid gaze of the visual and the sensory. Her lyrical fragments and sustained narrative plunge into the unsung aspects of Black culture and explore how Black Americans journey toward joy.

Propelled by the conditions that motivated her family's migration north, the poems pull heavily from Keita's place in her family, communities, and the world at large. They testify to her time and circumstances growing up Black in Philadelphia on the periphery of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Each poem builds upon an inheritance of voices: a panoramic perspective of an Easter Sunday service in a Black church gives way to an account of psychic violence in a newly integrated school; the collective voices of a beauty salon's patrons fragment into memories of neighborhoods in North Philadelphia that have faded over time.

Migration Letters strives to tell a story about Black people that radiates across generations and testifies to a world that, as Lucille Clifton wrote, “has tried to kill [us] and has failed.” They interrogate how one's present begins in the past, what we gain from barriers and boundaries, and what notions of progress energize our journey forward. Keita’s poems intimately reveal how Black culture can be inherited and built upon complex relationships where love and pain are inextricably linked.

ISBN-13: 9780807008072

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Beacon Press

Publication Date: 04-02-2024

Pages: 160

Product Dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.48(h) x 0.43(d)

Series: Raised Voices

M. Nzadi Keita is a poet, essayist, scholar and teacher. Her most recent poetry collection, Brief Evidence of Heaven—a finalist for the Phillis Wheatley Poetry Prize—sheds light on Anna Murray Douglass, Frederick Douglass’s first wife and is cited by David Blight in his prize-winning biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. Keita’s work has appeared in A Face to Meet the Faces: A Persona Poetry Anthology and journals including Killens Review of Arts and Letters and Poet Lore. A Cave Canem alumna, she taught creative writing, American literature, and Africana studies at Ursinus College. She was an adviser to the award-winning documentary BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez and has consulted with the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Foundation and Mural Arts Philadelphia. Keita has presented poetry and scholarship at national and international conferences. Her prose will appear in the forthcoming When We Exhale: Reflections on Rest, Grief, & Intimacy from Black Freighter Press. Connect with her on IG: @nzadikeita

Table of Contents

THE IDEA OF ANCESTRY

102.
[Far]

50.
[Migration Letter]

153.
[Fathers]

27.
[night shift/day shift]

45.
[Libations for the One Hundred Years of Gwendolyn Brooks]
to your heart to your journey

173.
[Migration Letter]

69.
[Mentor as a young woman: tanka for Sonia Sanchez]

54.
[A House Full]

195.
[Migration Letter]

7.
[Our Day Will Come]
Seasons
Christening
Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier said what you couldn’t say.

AN AGONY. AS NOW.

129.
[Letters To Eleanor]

34.
[1963]

70.
[white lie]

205.
[Not Your Philadelphia: August, 1964]

107.
[Ebony Magazine]
War
To the photographers
Diaspora

156.
[Toni Morrison Knows]

74.
[16th and Erie]

105.
[by 1989]

9.
[Letter to the Soul Singers: Lou Rawls,
Aretha Franklin, Koko Taylor, Ruth Brown,
Brook Benton, Nina Simone, B.B. King, Otis Redding
& James The-Godfather-of-Soul Brown]

THAT WE HEAD TOWARD

111.
[Letters to Black Bodies]
Integrated Morning
Integrated Afternoon
Blue Plastic Clothesline
“Fence Walk”

25.
[Presentable]

11.
[The Hansberry Suite]
Afterword to Ruth
Afterword to Walter Lee
Afterword to Travis
Beneatha Writes to Herself

57.
[Holes]

85.
[Eunice on 194th]

6.
[Norristown]

13.
[Korvette’s, 1967]

16.
[Kimiko, 1961]

109.
[Great Migration Pentimento]
Perry County
Mike
Jo
Stetson East siddity

86.
[Eunice by heart]

99.
[House Wedding]

HOMECOMING

29.
[Green Shades Outside the Tropicoro Bar]

38.
[Migration Letter]

213.
[Letter to Melvin Butler, 1965]

233.
[Letters to Mt. Airy, West Side]

240.
[Jones Beauty Shop]

189.
[American ode]

23.
[multiplied]

87.
[Eunice in flight]

117.
[East Chelten Avenue]

300.
[Easter]

18.
[6966 Weatham Street, 1968]

184.
[Letters to the First-Gen North]

DANCING ON THE SHORE

329.
[No way the whole world is white.]

66.
[Holiday magazine on the sofa]

67.
[“What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)?”]

311.
[Just American kids]

345.
[Letter to Nina Simone]

344.
[Cannabis]

321.
[Hendrix, Once]

19.
[Set for Chaka Khan]
Yvette
Chime

273.
[WDAS-FM, 1977]

215.
[Penn Relays]

212.
[Set for Pharoah Sanders]
Bus Ride
Chant

174.
[Ode to Sandalwood]

223.
[assimilation]

302.
[American Innocents]

312.
[Laughing with Don Belton]

78.
[Steel Pulse sings me a dream-letter]

304.
[You Didn’t Pay for That]

122.
[Migration Letter]

Notes
Acknowledgments
Gratitude