Diversity in Poetic Literature is Resistance

Amanda Cheung

By Rayanne Banaga is a Sudanese Canadian student at Mohawk College

Photo by Amanda Cheug

Among the greatest allures of poetry, is the opportunity it presents as a home for the overlooked. Poetry has long been a safe space for unheard and misunderstood voices in the literary world. In its simple yet beautiful defiance of the laws of formal literature, it stands as the smallest revolution of a writer. There is no better place for marginalized writers to flourish, yet, there is still a fight for diversity in poetic literature.

There needs to be more room made for writers who represent people of colour and especially the diaspora; and not simply in writing that includes diasporic characters as an afterthought or as a support. The difference here is that people of colour are rarely ever the target audience, even when they are the ones who provide the story. The diaspora, which includes the communities of people of colour who are displaced and living outside of their original homelands, is an important but overlooked demographic. Diasporic people balance their existence between two realities: one, in which they are the norm, and the other, in which they exist in a place as strange guests, despite how long they may have been there. The unique opportunity that diasporic poetry provides is one in which the story belongs wholly to the writer.

The beauty of great poetry comes from both the creative presentation and from the vulnerability it presents. Poetry is not only something meant to be read but something that is meant to be felt. The emotions are meant to be shared between reader and writer. The true art of poetry is that it teaches the reader how to empathize. The reader is given full access to the intricacies of the writer’s mind in ways that only art can achieve. In order for the reader to truly experience the art, they must engage fully with the thoughts of the writer and essentially find humanity in the experiences of another person. People of the diaspora have long been robbed of this prospect. So rarely are we exposed to the full human experience of people of colour, be they characters or otherwise. Instead, people of colour are watered down to be one-dimensional at best. It is important to see writers and characters that are both evil and good at the same time, ambitious but lost, happy and also confused. As it stands, characters and writers alike are only afforded visibility if they fit into a specific narrative. People of colour deserve to be complex. People of colour deserve to be recognized for their own complexities. Poetry has always been a safe haven for rebellious and radical minds because of the honesty it allows. Often through poetry, we are introduced to internal conflicts that for the most part are taboo subjects. It is the comfort found in this honesty that makes it a revolutionary art.

The reader is meant to recognize him or herself in the writing. This can only be the case if more writers of colour are writing for their own audience. In accepting the complexities of diasporic writers, it is important to recognize that the experiences of people of colour do not mirror the experiences of white men and women.

Our complexities differ. This is why representation matters, especially in such an intimate genre of writing. Young generations of children in the diaspora are not relating to the content that they are being taught. Poetry is taught as something that should be relatable and something that should elicit an emotional response, however, the poetry that is introduced to them was never targeted towards them. It is written both for and by a completely different demographic. It does not account for their experiences. Instead, this generation of young children are being reminded that they are not the norm. Readers who have to search for poetry and art that recognizes their feelings ,are forced to believe and are constantly reminded that they are an inconvenience and an exception.

The reality of the matter is that a safe space in which people of colour are the norm does not currently exist. In literature, it does not exist because writers of colour are not permitted creative autonomy. In everyday reality, people of colour are not afforded humanity at all. Poetry should be the starting point for both of these things. Diversity in poetic literature provides a significant opportunity for readers to engage directly with the minds of the people of the diaspora. Further, it is important that in engaging with writers we learn to empathize with the complexities of different demographics in order to afford them humanity. Only when we accept the differences in experiences to be recognized and told through various perspectives, can we accept them as fully human. People of colour deserve to curate their own realities, realities in which they are multifaceted beings. This is the first step to a reality in which people of colour do not exist out of convenience and obligation but as the norm—as beings who are entitled to the space that they take up.

I do not believe in well behaved art
By Rayanne Banaga

The words confined between my lips are vulgar

My poetry is not the sweet embrace of lovers arms

But stains of poison

My tongue tastes of resentment

My story starts somewhere in the middle

And ends at the beginning


My love is uncomfortable

I will not fill you with butterflies

My touch is the crawling of a million insects upon your skin

My truth will reach down your throat until you gag.


Puke. Itch and scratch. Cover your ears and wash your mouth with soap