I was speaking to my students recently about Caribbean poets and Claude McKay came up. Unsurprisingly, they were only vaguely familiar with his name. In some instances I have seen him listed as an American poet, an error which sought to erase his humble Jamaican origins. Born September 15, 1889, in Sunny Ville Clarendon, he eventually made his way across America and Europe, gathering worlds of experiences to himself. He was best known for his invaluable contribution to the Harlem Renaissance in New York and was considered a literary voice for social justice. More than any of his masterfully crafted poems, the one that resonates with me today, is the poem, “If We Must Die”.
A poem that never fails to shake me out of a defeated mindset.
“Though far outnumbered let us show us brave”
“Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back
Though this Shakespearean sonnet…
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