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Poem: Late – The New York Times


It’s possible there has never been a more timely poetry project than Joseph Ross’s new book, “Raising King.” With prescient passion and close attention, Ross has created, as the poet E. Ethelbert Miller describes, “a poetic biography of a movement.” Using epigraphs from books by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and authorized by his estate, Ross guides a reader on the powerful road of civil rights witness and awareness. Through poems of keen lyrical density, we chorus together: So much in our nation still needs to change. This book will be a guide for students of King’s indelible teachings of nonviolence. It springs up now as potent testament to how much inspiration and conviction one person’s advocacy and written witness can stir in another. Selected by Naomi Shihab Nye

By Joseph Ross

“The pale history books in Harlem and Birmingham told how the nation had fought a war over slavery, Abraham Lincoln had signed a document that would come to be known as the Emancipation Proclamation. The war had been won but not a just peace. Equality had never arrived. Equality was a hundred years late.”
“Why We Can’t Wait,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1964)

Late is never.
This is why we can’t.

A hundred years does not
taste like late.

It tastes like forgotten.
It looks like never

happened. This is why
children sang their way

into jail. This is how
a country moves

forward. By burning
itself on its own


Naomi Shihab Nye is the Young People’s Poet Laureate of the Poetry Foundation in Chicago. Her latest book is “Cast Away,” from Greenwillow Books. Joseph Ross teaches English and creative writing at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C. He is the author of four books of poetry, most recently “Raising King” (Willow Books, 2020).

Illustration by R.O. Blechman

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