Speaking Out, Part 2

In last week’s article, I introduced poets whose work illustrates problems which primarily affect marginalized populations in our country. This week, I’ve chosen some Ohio poets who speak out about issues in our society and the personal, pertinent effects of these issues. These poets aim to tackle the most important issues that receive the least attention.

Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib is an incredibly talented writer whose poems, essays, and spoken performances help to mediate between art and injustice. Before diving into Hanif’s extensive list of published poems, I first want to introduce his essay “In the Morning, I’ll Be All Right.” Here, Hanif draws vibrant parallels between the Civil Rights Movement Era and today, between Marvin Gaye’s soul song lyrics and his own writing. Through his fervent passion and acute perspective, he emphasizes the power that music and writing have to make the public aware of issues uncommonly talked about. Hanif uses his poetry as a voice to warn us not to let history repeat itself. In his poem “& who, this time,” he gives a comprehensive history of the oppression of the black community in our country and incorporates its effects on day to day life. “& who, this time, will mean that we all have ancestors & some of them built this country. & some of them were fed into the hunger of war to keep this country built.” In his work, Hanif radiates a sense of urgency to address and uproot the cycle of oppression his ancestors and current community faces. “& who, this time, will kiss under the aching moonlight like the world isn’t crumbling at their backs,” Hanif asks, leaving his readers hurt by the way our country has hurt its people, yet optimistic that we can and will improve. Hanif’s poems, and all of his work, left me with the itching need to seek out other poets whose voices lead, empower, and inspire their audiences to make a change.

Next, I’m passing the pen to Shameless Pen’s own writer, Jack Riordan. I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside Jack as he writes poetry and travel nonfiction which celebrates the delicate beauty in the world, the things that bring us together. Jack’s poem “Borders Versus Barriers” adamantly confronts the barriers that separate and segregate our country. He brings to light the racist, hateful, and entitled tendencies which have escaped our history books and found their way back into our current society. “If I build a wall high on the drawn blue line, And create other barriers to keep out…All those who do not look or pray like me…Will I also keep out those who could benefit me,” Jack asks, demanding the reader to really contemplate judgmental assumptions and intolerant policies. While his work does not reflect that the aftermath of these policies have hurt him directly, he speaks on behalf of the voices lost on the other side of the destructive walls we build. “It’s only men who know these drawn blue lines, That determine what is mine and not yours.” In his poem, Jack leaves his readers hopeful that our actions are still reversible, as long as we’re willing to change.

Lisa Summe is an inspiration to women and the LGBTQ community in Cincinnati, and everywhere. Her work celebrates being a “women who loves women” and calls attention to some of the challenges she’s faced as a result. Summe tells the story of her father and his Catholic faith’s role in her journey of accepting that “love can be anything you want it to be.” She begins her poem, “Coming Out,” in a church. She explores the many facets of being a part of the LGBTQ community in our shared hometown of the West Side of Cincinnati, a largely German Catholic area. “When I told my father I love women, he gave me a catechism, told me god loves the sinner, but not the sin,” she writes. Her poem offers insight to how she, at a young age, struggled with her identity, asking god to be a boy so she could marry her childhood crush. Her story here makes you stop and think about facing something so difficult at such a young age, but ultimately leaves her readers smiling. “Some people get on their knees when they apologize, push their hands together in hopes of forgiveness. I am on my knees and this is no apology.” Summe celebrates being a gay woman, embracing her identity and individuality.

Finally, I present Scott Woods, a Columbus State alum. Scott is the first poet to complete a 24-hour poetry reading, now an annual event for the last seven years, during which he has yet to repeat a single poem. Scott is the founder of the Writer’s Block Open Mic poetry night at Kafe Kerouac and has been a pioneer for many poetry organizations addressing a multitude of societal injustices. Just last month, he hosted Holler, an event showcasing the multicultural, multidisciplinary art and culture unique to our city. His goal was to distinguish the diverse talent Columbus has to offer, and to say that he accomplished this would be an understatement. I was fortunate enough to hear about Holler in time to catch day 30 of the month-long at the Columbus Museum of Art.

At Holler, I saw Scott perform two compelling poems. He spoke out about our country’s deeply-rooted systemic racism and discrimination against the black community. Most inspiring, though, was his discussion about these issues’ profound, personal effects on him and others in our community, and how it’s still not talked about. In reading his poems, he addressed historical and current issues that exemplify racial stereotypes, loss of culture among black communities, and the down sides of the shiny and new gentrified Columbus. “I used to not be able to walk this street because it was dangerous, now I can’t because I don’t belong,” Scott writes, as he explores the problems he sees with our quickly expanding city. He highlights culture loss not only currently, among communities dislocated by gentrification, but also throughout generations of African American citizens with “ancestors they did know [they] had.”

Scott leaves no room for excuses, as he uses his work not only to address who use their power directly for discrimination and segregation, but also those of us (myself included) who are not aware or not outspoken about the evident oppression in our city and in Columbus. Scott uses the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, to exemplify the fact that ignoring a problem is just as detrimental as causing one. Flint’s water crisis is just one among millions of examples of a suppressed and underrepresented disaster that primarily affect communities of color. “I don’t know what’s worse, the bulldozer or you, pretending to care as you lean on its levers.”





“Uncle Rick” is a poet who reads each week at the Writer’s Block Open Mic. His short, witty poems fearlessly challenge many of our central beliefs and ideas.


Scott and every other poet featured in this article make it impossible to continue to turn a blind eye to issues regarding sexuality and race. They each emphasize the sobering presence of injustice in our communities, city, and country, leaving their readers with a critical lens of the world, an open minded perspective, and an empowering desire to make a change. I hope this article has begun to do the same for you.

Erika Burwinkel

Read Speaking Out, Part 1 here:


Read the full works here:








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