What follows is a list of some of the debates. By the way, this list is not comprehensive (see # 12, #13, #14). Mostly, I have identified topics and debates that have caught my attention studying histories of African American poetry over the last 18 years or so.
Some of the debates are quite public. Some remain under the radar, whispered among various groups. Some of the debates are interracial (see #1, #7, #12); while others are intra-racial (see #3, #6, #9, #13) and cross-cultural. It's quite possible to participate in discussions of black poetry and never hear mention of these differences, in part because efforts to track the debates have been less extensive than the processes of celebrating poets and poetry.
I should note that I'm indebted to black arts discourse because that realm more than any other that I am aware of actively initiated, highlighted, and in some cases exposed various debates, tensions, and questions during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Everything listed below obviously requires further elaboration, which we should pursue at some point in the future.
1. Jefferson's vs. Phillis Wheatley -- There were longstanding beliefs that black folks lacked creativity, including the ability to produce poetry. Here's Thomas Jefferson:
Misery is often the parent of the most affecting touches in poetry. -- Among the blacks is misery enough, God knows, but no poetry. Love is the peculiar ;oestrum of the poet. Their love is ardent, but it kindles the senses only, not the imagination. Religion indeed has produced a Phyllis Whately; but it could not produce a poet. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism.Jefferson's remarks were often presented as evidence of the racist views of African American creativity and black poets as well as reasoning why African American poetry receives relatively little substantial criticism.
2. Dialect Dunbar vs. Standard Dunbar -- Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote verse in so-called standard English, and he wrote utilizing versions of black vernacular, or what folks commonly call 'dialect.' The popularity of Dunbar's "dialect" poems was sometimes vexing for him and others because of what it might suggest about the questionable interest of white audiences in representations of supposed "low-class" black people.