Machetes and knives found near the border of Rwanda, Goma, Zaire, 1994. Photo: Gilles Peress. © Gilles Peress/Magnum Photos.

AMONG THE MANY VIRTUES and vituperations that course through Ta-Nehisi Coates’s cri de coeur Between the World and Me, there exists a quieter argument about the importance of enunciation—poetry, dialogue, the act of writing—in interrogating one’s own humanity and learning to think like a humanist. “Poetry was the processing of my thoughts,” Coates writes, “until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.” He continues:

I had forgotten my own self-interrogations. . . . I was only beginning to learn to be wary of my own humanity, of my own hurt and anger—I didn’t yet realize that the boot on your neck is just as likely to make you delusional as it is to ennoble. . . . The art I was coming to love lived in this void, in the not yet knowable, in the pain, in the question. The older poets introduced me to artists who pulled

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