Human Rights is a powerful theme that encompasses the basic liberties and freedoms all humans are entitled to enjoy. Poetry is great medium to address human rights violations and advocate for the freedom of expression for all people. Poets who lend their pens to champion the rights of others are compelling voices who speak out against oppression and inequality. These poets paint pictures with their words that describe the human condition and stories. They capture the hope, faith, perseverance, cruelty, pain, love, and joy that puts us back in-tune with our humanity. As a collective work, human rights poetry seeks to repair our socially fractured world and inspire us as global citizens to fight against brutality, enslavement and torture. The following human rights poetry books are “must reads.” These acclaimed best sellers derive or describe global movements, for they urge us to reflect on someone else’s struggle and recommend solutions that create a common ground.
Originally published in October 2013 by the University of London Institute of Commonwealth Studies, In Protest: 150 Poems for Human Rights is an anthology of poems that moves readers to denounce global discrimination and persecution. As the first published anthology from the Human Rights Consortium at the School of Advanced Study at the University of London and the Keats House Poets, this book features works from established and emerging writers. The 150 poems written by lyrical intellectuals hailing from 28 countries make readers laugh and cry about the plight of mankind, as well as offer persuasive messages about courage and solidarity. Among the submissions are pieces by Swedish philanthropist and anthropologist Sigrid Rausing and British poet and novelist Professor Ruth Padel. Other poets highlighted in the anthology are Moniza Alvi, Carol Anne Duffy, and Anthony Hett, all of whom have established themselves in the global poetry scene and are fierce human rights activists. Thirteen themes to include exile, war, modern slavery, global poverty, freedom of expression, protest, and the treatment of women and children promote awareness about matters that touch every aspect of our lives.
Edited by Dinyar Godrej, author of the annual bestseller One World Almanac and co-editor of the New Internationalist magazine, Fire in the Soul: 100 Poems for Human Rights supports the role of Amnesty International and explores the injustices that have plagued human history. Thought provoking and assertive, the poems in this compilation provide an important contribution to moral principles meant to guide our interactions with each other. The writings of well-known poets Adrienne Rich, Pablo Neruda, and Ken Saro-Wiwa stand alongside the works of talented newcomers to engage readers and give voice to a myriad of global injustices. Some notable pieces that make Fire in the Soul one of the best poetry anthologies of early 21st century are “Revenge” by Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy and “Rich Woman, Poor Woman” by an unknown poet. Guest contributor Andrew Motion wrote in the Foreword of this collection that the majority of pieces in this publication are compelling because they focus on protests about the scarcity of human rights and object to the suppression of human voices.
June Fourth Elegies is a collection of poems that heightens awareness about the ongoing non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. This collection of poems was written by 2010 Nobel Peace Prize political activist and author Liu Xiaobo. As the foremost activist during the Tiananmen Square protest, Liu was jailed in 2009 for eleven years as a result of his participation in the protest and for co-authoring and publishing the 2008 Chinese manifesto of fundamental human rights. A fearless protest within its own right, June Fourth Elegies presents 20 years of Liu’s poetry honoring the 10,000 protestors who died during that day on June 4, 1989 in China. Liu Xiaobo originally wrote the poems in Chinese but later allowed them to be translated to English by Jeffrey Yang, editor at New Directions Publishing. Liu Xiaobo’s magnificent work also features poems written to his wife, Liu Xia, and a Foreword written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. June Fourth Elegies made a tremendous impact upon its release and continues to be a formidable piece of literature. As a dominant piece in the fight against oppression and the censorship of ideas, Liu Xiaobo’s writings in this volume of poetry are in part a human rights manifesto and a biographical sketch of his personal battles with the Chinese government.
Considered one of the most prolific volumes of 21st century African poetry, We Have Crossed Many Rivers. New Poetry from Africa showcases the writings of Matthew Shenoda, Yewande Omotoso, Chris Abani, Frank Chipasula, and Kwame Dawes along with 63 other African poets. Published by Malthouse Press Limited, this compilation of African poetry inspires readers and sends a profound message about the lack of human rights and political freedom that Africans suffer through daily. Edited by Dr. Dike Okoro, a finalist for the 1994 Iliad Poetry Award and professor at Northwestern University, this volume of African poetry creates images of Africa that are haunting and inviting. The poems are formatted alphabetically by country, beginning with a poem written by a Beninese poet and ending with a piece by a poet from Zimbabwe. The poem “Power! Power for Blood?” by Kimuthai Too sums up the corruption, greed, murder, and injustice that has permeated the core of African governments and organizations. While many of the poems describe Africa as a land full of hungry, desperate eyes and crosses that mark the graves of those who died fighting for justice, other poems in this collection speak of hope for Africa and marvel at the beauty of the land despite the army boots and rotting bodies.
What started as the poem “Para Los Nueve del Capitolio/ For the Capitol Nine” by Francisco X. Alarcón, Poetry of Resistance: Voices for Social Justice is a collective of poems hand selected by editors Odilia Galván Rodríguez and Francisco X. Alarcón. Emboldened by the actions of nine Latino students who chained themselves to the front door of the Arizona State Capitol to protest Arizona’s immigration law SB 1070, Alarcón first posted the original poem on a Facebook page he created to speak out against social injustice. After the movement went viral, Alarcón and his co-editor sorted through thousands of original works by poets from around the world and formatted them into an anthology. Published by the University of Arizona Press in 2016, Poetry of Resistance examines human rights issues to include racial profiling and violence against refugees. Contributors include notable poets Francisco Aragón, Sarah Browning, and Alma Luz Villanueva.