ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes

   

Home  ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)

Google
 

From his position as a professor of creative writing in the graduate program at Brown University, Harper has been able to mentor two generations of poets; champion numerous poets; bring back into print and cause a reassessment of earlier black poets, chiefly

Robert Hayden and Sterling Brown; and publish a number of influential poetry anthologies including: every Shut Eye Ain't Sleep

 

 

Books by Kalamu ya Salaam

 

The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

BLACK POETRY TEXT & SOUND:

TWO TRAINS RUNNING: BLACK POETRY 1965-2000

(notes towards a discussion & dialogue)

 By Kalamu ya Salaam

 

What is poetry? That is not a rhetorical question. What it is we are discussing? I define poetry as "stylized language." Within the context of what is generally called literature, I further specify that poetry is language stylized to have an emotional impact on its audience. Within the world of English-language poetry, the chief methods of stylization are: 1. meter and/or rhythm 2. the specific use of sound usually in terms of a. rhyme b. assonance/consonance c. alliteration d. onomatopoeia 3. figurative language, chiefly similes and metaphors.

The canonical standards for contemporary American poetry have their beginnings in England with Shakespeare and their most important developments in the modernist movement of the 1920s (T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, e.e. cummings and William Carlos Williams). The fountain heads of contemporary American poetry are considered to be Walt Whitman and Emily Dickerson.

When we look at black poetry, however, we find another, and equally important, source: namely black speech and music, a distinct and distinguished oral and aural tradition which predates America and stretches back to Africa. These two trains are the twin engines of African American, or what I would prefer to call African Diasporan poetry. Most literary criticism gives short shrift to, and very little critical understanding of, black speech/black music as a source of black poetry. Most literary criticism does not consider that our ancestral mother tongues were tonal languages, which to some non-Africans sound like singing rather than talking.

My argument is that the best use of our language is in fact song. Is song, not sounds like song. And this song essence, this musical emphasis informs what we know as poetry. Indeed, while we may be unique in the degree of our congruity of speech and song, within the context of poetry, the fact is, all poetry, I repeat all poetry, started out as sound rather than text, closer to song than to monotone talking.

Moreover, even the paragon of English poetry, i.e. the work of William Shakespeare (whomever he or she, or they, may have been), even Shakespeare was primarily working in an oral tradition using the vernacular of his day. It is not inappropriate to argue that Shakespeare created the English language as a vehicle for literature. During his day, most literature was written in Latin or French. Shakespeare elevated folk forms and the peasant patois of his era to a literary art form. Shakespeare took the vernacular and created high art.

This brings us to the  Black Arts Movement. I know it probably seems like a major stretch to go directly from Shakespeare to the black arts movement of the 1960s, but if you understand that the effort of the black arts movement was to make art based on the speech and music of black people, drawn from the everyday lives of our people and returned to them in an inspiring and potent form; if you understand that the vernacular was the basis for the development of the art; and if you understand that text was not the singular consideration but rather one of a number of considerations, then you can appreciate the Shakespeares of Harlem, of Watts, of Detroit, Chicago, D.C., so forth and so on. And by the way, this artistic elevation of the vernacular is not limited to Shakespeare and the black arts movement.

This same concern shaped the work of the aforementioned founders and fountain heads of modern American poetry. Indeed, this same phenomenon is evidenced in the work of Homer and particularly in the work of Dante, just to name two very important poets from a global historical perspective. While I acknowledge there are other perspectives and considerations, I nevertheless proffer the theory that what was new about the black arts movement was that we were creating our own path rather than following the paths of others.

I also need to point out that the development of the Black Arts Movement had roots and precedents in earlier movements within black literature, as well as roots from outside the black literary tradition. For a general overview of the black arts movement, I refer you to my essay in the Oxford Companion to African American Literature. For a detailed investigation of the black arts movement, I refer you to my forthcoming book: The Magic of Juju: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement.

With that background I will now offer observations for discussion and dialogue. This is not a position paper; this is not an analysis; this is not a summary, but rather is simply a sharing of some ideas and observations toward the development of an assessment of black poetry 1965 to 2000. The black arts movement proper covers the time period of 1965 to 1976. In February 1965 Malcolm X was assassinated and shortly thereafter in March of 1965 a small group of artists and intellectuals coalesced in Harlem to take up work that Malcolm X had outlined in his vision for the Organization of Afro American Unity, the Oaau. Malcolm called for the developed of a cultural center in Harlem.

Amiri Baraka, then LeRoi Jones, Larry Neal, Askia Muhammad Toure, then Roland Snellings, and numerous others responded directly to this call. It is important to point out that the concept for what became the black arts repertory theatre/school did not originate with Baraka although it was named and actualized by Baraka.

The specific thrust came from Malcolm X, who in turn was influenced by the teachings of Elijah Muhammad from whom Malcolm had split and from the whole black nationalist tradition dating back to Garvey in Harlem, a movement which Malcolm had studied intently.

Moreover, although looking at the work of key individuals is extremely important, what is more important is to consider the ideas and institutions, the programs and production that is engendered by individuals in motion during a given era. In this case the black arts era is birthed with the death of Malcolm X and makes it's own transition in 1976 when its three major publishing institutions all, each for different reasons, cease functioning. The three major publishing institutions are Dudley Randall's Detroit-based Broadside Press (which by the way re-emerged and continues to operate today); Johnson publications, Hoyt Fuller edited Negro Digest/Black World; and The Journal of Black Poetry published and edited by Joe Goncalves, aka Dingane. Between these three institutions hundreds of poets were published and over thousands of poems distributed in the Black community of the USA and worldwide.

There has been no comparable output of published poetry by any other movement in the history of America. Negro Digest/Black World, with a circulation over 100,000 was the largest literary magazine in American history. White, black or otherwise. Period. Broadside Press with its poetry books, broadsides, tapes and lps, and short lived though very important series of critical monographs is without precedent as a publisher of American poetry. No other press was as influential in terms of poetry.

And finally, although its circulation was not as large, the Journal of Black Poetry which published 19 issues between the mid sixties and the mid seventies, is one of the most vibrant examples of an independently published, non-academic poetry journal in the history of American publishing. This period also produced three major poetry anthologies: Dudley Randall's The Black Poets, Abraham Chapman's New Black Voices, and Stephen Henderson's Understanding the New Black Poetry: Black Speech and Black Music as Poetic References. Of course, there is also the seminal anthology for the black arts movement, namely Leroi Jones and Larry Neal's Black Fire.

The next major period of black poetry is undefined in terms of a movement per se. This era of retrenchment from the ideals and actualities of black arts poetic production and movement toward, and indeed embracement of, more mainstream modes of poetic production finds its fruition in the work of poet, professor and anthologist Michael Harper. General acclaim given to Pulitzer Prize winning poet Yusef Komunyaaka and to national poet laureate Rita Dove, are both partially the result of the behind the scenes and extremely far reaching work of Michael Harper.

From his position as a professor of creative writing in the graduate program at Brown University, Harper has been able to mentor two generations of poets; champion numerous poets; bring back into print and cause a reassessment of earlier black poets, chiefly Robert Hayden and Sterling Brown; and publish a number of influential poetry anthologies including: every Shut Eye Ain't Sleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans since 1945 (published in 1994) and The Vintage Book of African American Poetry (published Feb. 2000). During this post-black arts period there has been a virtual proliferation of black poets coming through graduate programs in literature. One might call them mfa poets if it didn't have such an exclusive and exclusionary ring to it.

The fruition of Harper's vision is one of the most important developments of the 90s, namely the Cave Canem grouping of poets led by Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eddy. Harper and Cave Canem are all academically-oriented, not exclusively so but in the main that is their orientation, and that means they are most concerned with text. Of course other currents were active during this period, and three of the most important figures in late 20th century poetry production in terms of editing, anthologizing, and championing the work of black poets, are Quincy Troupe, E. Ethlelbert Miller and the head of this crew Dr. Jerry Ward, whose 1997 anthology Trouble the Water-250 Years of African American Poetry is a quintessential embodiment of this viewpoint.

Additionally, from a pedagogic point of view, the most important of what I would term the third stream of modern Black poetry is found in the work of Joanne Gabbin with her furious flower conference and the extensions from that conference that include a four-volume video tape series, an online teacher's guide, an anthology of critical essays, and a forthcoming anthology of poetry.

Furious Flower represents an unparalleled summing up of mid to late 20th century Black poetry. Gabbin's vision embraces both trains of African American aesthetics, the text-oriented and the speech/music oriented, and manages to be both compact and comprehensive while acknowledging the strengths and importance of both schools of African American poetics. 

Here is text and context presented in multimedia appropriate for use in the classroom. The importance of the comprehensive third stream (as exemplified by Gabbin, Miller, Troupe and others) on the one hand and the academic poets (as clustered around Michael Harper and Cave Canem) on the other hand, are both eclipsed by the most recent development in African American poetry, namely the spoken word movement which began to dominate the production of black poetry in the late 1990s.

Watershed events in this regard are the nationally released motion pictures: Love Jones (1997) starring Lorenz Tate and Nia Long, and directed by Theodore Witcher, and Slam (1998) starring Saul Williams and Sonia Sohn and directed by Marc Levin. Although this movement was not started by these movies, these two films are collectively responsible for popularizing what is now the most dynamic movement in black poetry. If there is a watershed event it happened many, many years before: September 1979 with the release of Rapper's Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang. This was the beginning of rap recordings.

Rap, as an art form, is the single most important influence on Black poetry at the turn of the century. 1. Stressed the vernacular, and therefore was accessible to young people who were otherwise shut out of artistic production and most of whom (but not all) were excluded from higher education, and thus not likely to be directly influenced by the text tradition in a pedagogical way. 2. Had a strong performance orientation which stressed working with a live audience as opposed to a text orientation. 3. Had a commercial base which stressed popularity often to the detriment of development.

Many, many people in the text and some in the third stream camps are extremely critical of the spoken word movement. They make the mistake of focusing on the movement's obvious shortcomings and ignoring the strengths and potentials. (Read Lorenzo Thomas.) Mention Giant Steps by Kevin Young--all the poets included are mfa poets. The spoken word movement is an American movement and not a black poetry movement in that it encompasses blacks, latino/a, asian, indigenous peoples and whites. The black branch has yet to produce major anthologies or recordings, and thus is not easily available for study and teaching in the classroom.

Major figures of this movement on the black side include: Patricia Smith, Tracie Morris, Roger Bonair-Agard, Reggie Gibson and Staceyann Chin among many, many others. There will be a proliferation of work in this regard arriving soon. There has yet to be an anthology (which will necessarily have to include a cd) that exemplifies this movement. I have not touched on, but do want to mention the whole jazzpoetry movement, championed by Jayne Cortez, Sekou Sundiata, Kamau Daaood and yours truly. This movement works to bring together black speech and black music into a unified artistic whole. Each of the aforementioned have recordings that exemplify their work.

Finally, I want to end with a challenge: 1. Bring back Bam’s  major works Black Fire and Understanding the New Black Poetry, now out of print. If the books were being used in the classroom, they would still be in print. 2. Encourage students to study BAM and study spoken word the way we encourage (by the example of the books we write, authors we assign, and texts we canonize) the study of the Harlem Renaissance. 3. Put together a journal dedicated to the publication and critique of black poetry and black poetics. This activity could be expanded into websites, listservs, cd roms, videos, audio cds and the like. Which institution, which individuals will take the lead in the study and development of Black poetry? 

The further development of Black poetry is what is to be done.

*   *   *   *   *

Audio: My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

Guarding the Flame of Life

   *   *   *   *

Men We Love, Men We Hate
SAC writings from Douglass, McDonogh 35, and McMain high schools in New Orleans.

An anthology on the topic of men and relationships with men

Ways of Laughing
An Anthology of Young Black Voices
Photographed & Edited by
Kalamu ya Salaam

*   *   *   *   *

New Orleans Jazz Funeral for tuba player Kerwin James / They danced atop his casket Jaran 'Julio' Green

*   *   *   *   *

Track List
1.  Congo Square (9:01)
2.  My Story, My Song (20:50)
3.  Danny Banjo (4:32)
4.  Miles Davis (10:26)
5.  Hard News For Hip Harry (5:03)
6.  Unfinished Blues (4:13)
7.  Rainbows Come After The Rain (2:21)/Negroidal Noise (15:53)
8.  Intro (3:59)
9.  The Whole History (3:14)
10.  Negroidal Noise (5:39)
11.  Waving At Ra (1:40)
12.  Landing (1:21)
13.  Good Luck (:04)

*   *   *   *   *

music website > http://www.kalamu.com/bol/
writing website > http://wordup.posterous.com/
daily blog > http://kalamu.posterous.com
twitter > http://twitter.com/neogriot
facebook > http://www.facebook.com/kalamu.salaam

*   *   *   *   *

AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

*   *   *   *   *

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues


1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        

Enjoy!

*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)

 

 

update 13 February 2012

 

 

 

 Home     Kalamu ya Salaam Table    Kalamu ya Salaam Biblio  Askia M. Toure Table

Related files:  Is A Sonnet More Than Fourteen Lines   On Writing Haiku     WORDS: A Neo-Griot Manifesto   That Old Black Magic    The Myth of Solitude    What Is Black Poetry

in the hot house of black poetry another furious flowering --  Part I / Part II  /  Part III  /  Part IV