New poetry collection celebrates Martin Luther King

Powerful poems inspired by a speech Dr Martin Luther King gave when he visited Newcastle in 1967 feature in a new book launched next month.

Poets on both sides of the Atlantic have contributed to The Mighty Stream: Poems in Celebration of Martin Luther King.

Featuring work by both established and emerging poets, the new anthology brings together a selection of poems addressing the challenges of racism, poverty and war that Dr King highlighted in the impromptu speech he made when he accepted his honorary degree.

Alongside poems by former US poet laureates Rita Dove and Robert Pinksy, work by three Pulitzer Prize winners – Gregory Pardlo, Tyehimba Jess, and Yusef Komunyakaa – is included in the anthology.

The new collection also features a number of emerging poets such as Raymond Antrobus, Degna Stone, and Edward Doegar. Their work appears alongside established poets including Claudia Rankine, Daljit Nagra, Benjamin Zephaniah, Nikki Giovanni, and Patricia Smith.

The Mighty Stream: Poems in Celebration of Martin Luther King is published by Newcastle University in partnership with Bloodaxe Books and has been edited by Jackie Kay, Professor of Poetry at Newcastle University and Scots Makar, and Carolyn Forcheì, Director of the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice at Georgetown University, Washington.

Professor Linda Anderson, Newcastle University, said: “Fifty years on, the ‘great and grave problems’ of war, poverty and racism that Dr King spoke about remain as relevant today as they were in 1967. At times angry and defiant, and emotionally-charged throughout, this important and timely collection of work offers powerful testimonies to the urgent issues Dr King spoke about during his visit to Newcastle.”

On 13 November 1967, Newcastle University gave Dr Martin Luther King an honorary degree – the only UK university to do so during his lifetime. Remarkably, Dr King took time to visit Newcastle to receive the award. He then gave an impromptu acceptance speech – his last public address outside of the US before his assassination barely six months later.

In addressing the issues raised by Dr King fifty years ago, some of the poems that have been written especially for the new collection deal with topics such as the reaction to Brexit and the election of President Trump.

Also among the poems included is ‘Praise Song for the Day’ by Elizabeth Alexander, which she composed especially for the 2009 presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.
The Mighty Stream: Poems in Celebration of Martin Luther King will be launched on Saturday 11 November, with readings from Kwame Dawes, Fred D’Aguiar, Major Jackson, Sarah Howe, Imtiaz Dharker, and Jackie Kay.

This will be preceded by a BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival discussion, featuring some of the poets reading at the launch event.

Both events, and the new anthology, are part of Freedom City 2017, a city-wide programme across Newcastle marking the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr receiving an honorary degree from Newcastle University.

Tickets for the Free Thinking discussion are free but must be booked in advance. Tickets for the book launch are priced £6.00 (£4.00 concessions, £2.00 for Newcastle University students). For more information and to book tickets visit www.ncl.ac.uk/ncla/events/