20 poets, 10 poems, 25 years of National Poetry Month

Democracy

Langston Hughes
Author
Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes (1902–1967) was born in Joplin, Missouri. After graduating from high school, he spent a year in Mexico followed by a year at Columbia University in New York. His first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published in 1926, and his first novel, Not Without Laughter, was released in 1930 and won the Harmon gold medal for literature. In 1929, following extensive travel, Hughes settled in Harlem and was a key figure in shaping the Harlem Renaissance. In the 1940s, he created the enormously popular fictional character Jesse B. Semple, a Black everyman and protagonist of the 18-volume “Simple” stories. Hughes also wrote plays, numerous works of prose, and an acclaimed memoir, The Big Sea (Knopf, 1940). He loved jazz, wrote about it extensively, and incorporated the rhythms and improvisatory quality of the music into his verse.
Adrian Matejka
Selected and Read By
Adrian Matejka
Adrian Matejka is the author of six books, most recently Standing on the Verge & Maggot Brain (Third Man Books, 2021) a mixed-media collection inspired by Funkadelic, and Somebody Else Sold the World (Penguin, 2021), a forthcoming collection of poems. His book The Big Smoke (Penguin, 2013), received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Among Matejka’s other honors are fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, and a Simon Fellowship from United States Artists. He is the Ruth Lilly Professor of Poetry at Indiana University Bloomington and was poet laureate of the state of Indiana in 2018–19.

Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right
As the other fellow has
To stand
On my two feet
And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.

Freedom
Is a strong seed
Planted
In a great need.

I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you.

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