Poetry of Molefi Kete Asante

four and a half dragons

I read two of Asante’s poetry collections Like Water Running Off My Back and Beautiful. And Ugly Too. I’m sad that I hadn’t heard of him before. I found these collections while shelf-reading the collection at the library I work in. But perhaps my reading of these works will inspire at least one other person to look for Asante or other poets like him.

I found it interesting how Asante changed names throughout writing. In the first collection I read the authors name was “Molefi K. Asante Jr.” in the next collection it was by “M.K. Asante Jr.” and on Goodreads the author is known as “Molefi Kete Asante.” I’ve always thought it strange that some cultures don’t believe names should change as the person does. And with all the official documentation now it is incredibly difficult to legally change a name, at least in America (I don’t know about other cultures in this regard). Regardless I found these collections to be enlightening and edifying, but in quite different ways. Let’s dive in.

“Love is learning the song in someone’s heart and singing it to them when they forget.”

― M.K. Asante, Buck: A Memoir
Like Water Running off My Back

Definitely my favorite out of the two. The writing is very much like spoken word poetry or slam poetry so if that’s your thing then this is worth it. I found each poem exquisite and most of them were quite attainable.

There were two sections that I found particularly important. The first can be viewed as an open letter to black entertainers. A call to them to use the platform they have worked so hard to get in a positive way rather than promoting drugs and abuse. I agree with this because I do believe that anyone, no matter race, ethnicity, or gender, who chooses to be in the public eye has a certain responsibility to promote good things. And by good I don’t mean a specific religion or chastity. I mean things like consent and choice and the power of personal will. The power to choose who you are going to be regardless of the bad role models we have in front of us.

The second section I found noteworthy discusses misogyny in the black community and specifically amongst black entertainers. He puts responsibility partially on their shoulders as he reminds them what black youths see their role models do on TV all day until they internalize it and feed it back to their family.  

Beautiful. And Ugly Too.

This collection was clearly written later and was possibly viewed by other poets as more accomplished. It had a more learned feel, but because of that it felt less accessible to me. I am not an avid poetry reader so when I do read it I need some signposts along the way. If you’re able to understand poetry easily this collection may well be more your style as he covers similar topics but with a more knowledgeable eye to their meaning both for himself and for others like him. The section that most resonated with me was called Father. The emotion evoked in every line was enough to make me pause and read each one again. Absolutely exquisite.

Between Like Water Running Off My Back and Beautiful. And Ugly Too most people can find something that suits them.

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