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Melba Joyce Boyd in front of Maccabees Building on Wayne State University Campus Photo: Douglass Davis

Melba Joyce Boyd


A native Detroiter, Dr. Melba Joyce Boyd is an award-winning author or editor of 13 books and over 100 essays on African American literature, film and culture.  Nine of her books are poetry; her latest collection, Death Dance of a Butterfly (Past Tents Press, 2013) received the 2013 Library of Michigan Notable Books Award for Poetry. She is the author of “This Museum Was Once a Dream,” the official poem for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, which is engraved in the museum wall. She has read her poetry at universities and cultural institutions throughout the U.S. and Europe, and her poetry has been translated into German, Italian, Spanish and French.


Boyd is a Distinguished Professor in African American Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, and an Adjunct Professor in Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor.  She has held professorial positions at the University of Iowa, Ohio State University, was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Bremen in Germany, and Visiting Professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, Republic of China.


She is also a documentary filmmaker: The Black Unicorn: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press, and co-producer of Star by Star: The Poetry and Publishing of Naomi Long Madgett. Boyd’s poetry, essays and creative nonfiction have appeared in anthologies, academic journals, cultural periodicals and newspapers in the United States and Europe.

Roses and Revolutions: The Selected Writings of Dudley Randall received the 2010 Independent Publishers Award, the 2010 Library of Michigan Notable Books Award for Poetry, and was a Finalist for the NAACP Image Award for Poetry and the ForeWord Award for Poetry.  Wrestling with the Muse: Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press received the 2004 Honor for Nonfiction from The Black Caucus of the American Library Association.

To listen to Melba J. Boyd read her poems, please click on the audio player that appears above each text. 

The Bass is Woman - Melba Boyd

The Bass Is Woman

for Marion Hayden

At a left-

angled tilt,

adjacent to

her throat,

Marion mind-

melds with this




Lithe, swift



eighth notes

in cut time




releasing stress

from neck

past breasts

through a

navel leading

into a womb

gifting violet

riffs like sweet

rose water

brimming inside


thick hips

that swing

and sway,

dancing on

ripples of



Her brown

curves ground

earth tones

at the base

of rhythm—

the back-

bone of song.


The bass

is woman.

Tecumseh Dispelling Thunder Clouds - Melba Joyce Boyd

Tecumseh Dispelling Thunder Clouds

for Marion Ford Thomas


Wise women

fulfill futures,

water gardens,

design quilts

woven with laughter

and mysteries

that warm baby cribs

while mapping starlight

through hostile domains

for alternative lives.


Marion Tecumseh

is a peacemaker,

discrete, intelligent,

graceful and petite.

She adorns her

classrooms with

insight, compassion

and courage to

uphold truth,

like Tecumseh

dispelling thunder

clouds threatening

blue skies her

children fill with

songs and paintings

of mosaic designs

contoured with

sunsets and

earth tones.


We live in her life,

fill our fingers

with her prayers

and incisive perspective,

enhancing what she

already realized

as we learn

what to


Crystallizing the Moon - Melba Joyce Boyd

Crystallizing the Moon

for Mick Vranich        


When the blues

follows your steps,

poetry lines

are as deliberate

as wiping blood off

a union contract,

declensions as

foreboding as

the howl of blood-

hounds tracking

radicals like criminals

stealing freedom

after midnight.


Mick could find a lilt

in this pathos,

he could rock a poem

about hard knocks

in Detroit,

like a siren protesting

murdered dreams,


like listening

to guitar hymns

resonating on

the underbelly

of saxophones

soaked in funky

beer notes

rising above the

Cass Corridor.



like watching

the blues,


the moon.

We Want Our City Back - Melba Joyce Boyd

We Want Our City Back

We want our city back.

We want our streetlights on.

We want our garbage gone.

We want our children

playing on playgrounds,

but not with loaded guns.

We want to retire

by the river

and raise collard greens

in abandoned fields.

We want our ancestors

to rest in peace.

We want our city back.

We don't want law and order.

We want justice and jobs.

We don't want small business.

We mean serious business.

No more Mom and Pop wig shops.

No more Mickey D's

rappin’ with the homies.

No more Dollar Stores

We need groceries.

No more Dixie Colonels

serving Kente cloth cuisine.

No more taco supreme.

No more indigestion or

quick-fix politics.

We want our city back.

We don't want police

harassing the homeless

for being without a lease.

We don't want video cops

bustin’ crack heads

with flashlights at night.

We want peacekeepers

to capture the real dope men

reclining in respectable privilege.

We want our taxes to track

down the real assassins.

We want our city back.

We don't want Euro-centric

or Afro-eccentric educations.

We want a freedom curriculum.

We want a liberated vision

in history remembered.

We don't want our children

crunched like computer chips

to fit in the old world order,

worshiping slave holding

societies in Egypt or Greece.

We want the board of education

to take a lie detector test

for neglect of the intellect,

for assault on our children's senses.

We don't want them to be GM execs,

or rejects in labor camps.

We want dignity,

not cupidity.

We want our city back.

No more text-sex mess.

No more zoot-suit mayors,

shuffling skeletons and abuses

like gamblers losing pay checks.

No more ex-basketball,

suburban, bing-a-ling mayors,

ignoring inner city citizens

living next to boarded-up

doors and bolted windows.

No more broken trees.

No more motor city casinos,

or dilapidated buildings

where junkies, rodents

and vermin spring.

We want our city back.

We want the river dredged

for distraught souls.

We want our homes rebuilt.

We want the guilty

to pay a greed tax

for the living they stole.

No more poison water.

No more Republican

managers who emerge

but cannot see.

We want our city back.

We want out country back,

from this Rebirth

of a Racist Nation,

from a man who

shakes hands with

the Ku Klux Klan,

reversing religious


and deporting people

God painted tan.

Hey! We ain't going away

like fugitives slaves

escaping to Canaday!

Our backs are up

against the wall.

This is our clarion call.

Feed the hungry.

Clothe the ragged.

Heal the sick.

Enlighten the ignorant.

Punish the wicked.

And raise the dead!

We want our streetlights on.

We want our garbage gone.

We want to be rid

of smack and crack.

We want to retire

by the river.

We want our ancestors

to rest in peace.

We are claiming our history,

seizing the hour.

Cause, we mean to take

our city and our country back.

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