Tyehimba Jess


Tyehimba Jess is the author of two books of poetry, Leadbelly and Olio. Olio won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, The Midland Society Author’s Award in Poetry, and received an Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. It was also nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN Jean Stein Book Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Leadbelly was a winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. The Library Journal and Black Issues Book Review both named it one of the “Best Poetry Books of 2005.” Jess, a Cave Canem and NYU Alumni, received a 2004 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and was a 2004–2005 Winter Fellow at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. Jess is also a veteran of the 2000 and 2001 Green Mill Poetry Slam Team, and won a 2000–2001 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry, the 2001 Chicago Sun-Times Poetry Award, and a 2006 Whiting Fellowship. He presented his poetry at the 2011 TedX Nashville Conference and won a 2016 Lannan Literary Award in Poetry. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 2018. Jess is a Professor of English at College of Staten Island. Jess' fiction and poetry have appeared in many journals, as well as anthologies such as Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, Beyond The Frontier: African American Poetry for the Twenty-First Century, Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature and Art, Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Power Lines: Ten Years of Poetry from Chicago's Guild Complex, and Slam: The Art of Performance Poetry. Source


the war speaks at night

with its lips of shredded children,

with its brow of plastique

and its fighter jet breath,

and then it speaks at daybreak

with the soft slur of money

unfolding leaf upon leaf.

it speaks between the news

programs in the music

of commercials, then sings

in the voices of a national anthem.

it has a dirty coin jingle in its step,

it has a hand of many lost hands,

a palm of missing fingers,

the stump of an arm that it lost

reaching up to heaven, a foot

that digs a trench for its dead.

the war staggers forward,

compelled, inexorable, ticking.

it looks to me

with its one eye of napalm

and one eye of ice,

with its hair of fire

and its nuclear heart,

and yes, it is so human

and so pitiful as it stands there,

waiting for my hand.

it wants to know my answer.

it wants to know how i intend

to show it out of its misery,

and i only want it

to teach me how to kill.





Literary Movements:


Anthology Years:



Faith & Hope

Violence & War

Literary Devices:


an expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; an indirect or passing reference


the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object

End Rhyme

when a poem has lines ending with words that sound the same

Extended Metaphor

a metaphor that extends through several lines or even an entire poem


the attribution of human qualities to a non-human thing