Reading a poem on Racism – Black People & White People Were Said – Kerry Johanssen

I have been reading poems from Tony Hoagland’s anthology of “Twenty Little Poems That Could Save America.”  In the following poem, there is some sort of a hopelessness about racism: We hope that racism will go away, and we keep hoping it still doesn’t.  Even when we try to spread that message to the next generation, racism doesn’t go away.  We use oblique ways of measuring our success.  And we don’t understand why it does not go away or why it stays.  The poem is by Kerry Johanssen, a poet from North Carolina that I couldn’t find much information on.

Black People & White People Were Said

to disappear if we looked at
each other too long
especially the young ones —
especially growing boys & girls
the length of a gaze was
watched sidewise
as a king snake
eyeing a copperhead while hands
of mothers and fathers gently
tugged their children close
white people & black people were said to
disappear if but nobody ever said it
loud nobody said it
at all & nobody ever
talked about where
the ones who didn’t listen
went

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2 Replies to “Reading a poem on Racism – Black People & White People Were Said – Kerry Johanssen”

  1. I wrote the above poem. I do not think it possible to adequately (whatever that means) review the poem since it has been printed incorrectly. Words are run together, specifically placed spaces and dashes omitted, even my name is spelled wrong. The elements of the poem point toward a meaning deeper than emotional response and individual understanding, although the writer cannot will the song to be heard in a certain way.

    Glad to see your attention to Gregg and Rukeyser.

    –Kerry Johanssen

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