Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era

Lately, I've been thinking about this book Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era (2020) edited by Tiffany Austin, Sequoia Maner, Emily Ruther Rutter, and darlene anita scott. The subject matter of the book is one that seems, well, timeless. We're always dealing with these elegies. 

The collection highlights poems that address death, or more specifically the practice of poets writing about the pain of loss and the celebration of those who passed. You can imagine that we've had an outpouring of such compositions in recent years with the attention placed on figures who have been victims of police violence. Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Mike Brown. Breonna Taylor. And on and on and on. 

The very formation of the slogan "Black Lives Matter" is a lamentation, which emerged in the acquittal of the person who killed Trayvon Martin. It's a statement, yes, but Black Lives Matter has a kind poetic nature to it.

Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era includes poems and critical prose pieces discussing some of the topics associated with death and pained remembrances. "In what ways," ask Rutter, Maner, Austin, and scott, in the introduction, "does the elegiac mode facilitate healing, helping us to cope with, mediate on, and work to build healthy, sustainable futures informed by this systemic pattern of loss?" That's one of several questions driving the work in this collection.  

There is a long history of African American elegies, as the editors note in their introduction. Phillis Wheatley, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Helene Johnson, Wanda Coleman, Elizabeth Alexander, and many many more have produced elegies. I became fascinated by elegies, especially those focused on Malcolm X and jazz musicians like John Coltrane when I was studying the Black Arts era. 

Dozens of poets wrote about Malcolm and Coltrane. In fact, there's no small coincidence that the Black Arts Movement took shape in March 1965, a month after Malcolm was assassinated. The formation of the movement was itself an elegiac response to his death. The poems in the anthology For Malcolm and the works channeling the slain leader throughout the 1960s and 1970s solidified his presence in Black literary art. 

This collection Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era gives us reason to consider poems about those we've lost in the current moment. 

The book includes three main sections: "Elegiac Reconfigurations," "Hauntings and Reckonings," and "Elegists as Activists." Each section includes poems followed scholarly articles and then more poems. It's a combination that we do not get to witness nearly enough in collections. 

I was especially pleased to see opening poems by Tony Medina. He has been writing resistance poems and works about victims of police violence more than most. In this collection, he publishes poems about Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray. 

There are poems included in the collection by Angela Jackson-Brown, Anne Lovering Rounds, Jerry Wemple, Emily Jo Scalzo, Paula Bohince, Lisa Norris, Steffan Triplett, Sequoia Maner, Danielle Legros Geroges, darlene anita scott, Sean Murphy, Sarah Giragosian, Tiffany Austin, Charles Braxton, Lauren K. Alleyne, Jacqueline Johnson, Chris Campanioni, Cameron Barnett, Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, Nicholas Rianard Goodly, and Jason Harris. 

There are scholarly articles by Laura Vrana, Maureen Gallagher, Anne M. Rashid, J. Peter Moore, Almas Khan, Maner, Deborah M. Mix, Licia Morrow Hendriks, Maia L. Butler and Megan Feifer, Hoke S. Glover III (Bro. Yao), and an interview that Maner conducts with Amanda Johnston about the "Black Poets Speak Out" project. 

The aforementioned contributors give you a sense of how much is going on (in a good way) in the book. Despite the variety, this theme of elegy is consistent. Vrana and Maner contribute pieces on the poetry of Patricia Smith. Gallagher and Rashid devote aspects to poetry by Claudia Rankine. Mix writes about Bettina Judd's poetry, and Butler and Feifer write about Edwidge Danticat. They all address elegy to some degree. 

References to Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till appear throughout the collection, an indication of how prominent those two black boys are in the artistic and scholarly discourse on Black elegies. Moving forward, we can expect to see the names George Floyd and Breonna Taylor appear more frequently as well. And who knows how we'll ever come to terms with all the people we've lost to the coronavirus? 

All of this is to say that I've benefitted by reading through this collection. The poems expand my sense of what poets are doing with elegies, and I hope to learn more as I take more time with the articles.     

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Haley Reading Group: Batman and the Outsiders, Part 4

[Haley Reading groups Fall 2020]

Chapter 4 of Batman and the Outsiders provides more setup. It's a break from all the action in the previous issues and perhaps preparation for what is to come. 

Based on what you read in chapter 4, which storyline were you most interested in? Why? 


Haley Reading Group: Black Panther, Chapter 2

[Haley Reading groups Fall 2020]

Alright, let's say more about chapter 2 of Black Panther.  

I'm always thinking about things I overlooked on the first or second time through an issue. 

What's something intriguing you noticed about chapter 2 of Black Panther that you may have overlooked or just did not have time to comment on your first time through? 

Haley Reading (Group B) -- American Spy, Chapters 10 - 14

 [Haley Reading groups Fall 2020]

By Boluwatife O. Ojewande

In chapters ten through fourteen of American Spy, Marie recalls Helen's funeral, Robbie's visit to Martinique, and her first undercover assignment to gather intel during President Thomas Sankara’s visit to New York City. She is told to seduce the leader, which makes her feel uncomfortable.

“While I was attracted to him, I knew it was wrong to try and seduce him” (142).

Why was what Marie described about her challenges as a Black woman professional important for you to consider? 

Haley Reading (Group A) -- American Spy, Chapters 10 - 14

 [Haley Reading groups Fall 2020]

By Boluwatife O. Ojewande

By chapter eleven of American Spy, Marie is on her first undercover assignment, gathering important intelligence about Thomas Sankara who is a communist president of Burkina Faso. Sankara has come to the New York City to give a speech at the United Nations, and, Marie must get close to him. For Marie to succeed, she is expected to seduce Thomas.

“I was to be present, charming, and familiar,” observed Marie, “so that he would feel comfortable with me, and I could gather my intel” (128).

What stood out to you about Marie’s first undercover assignment or any other scene in the reading? Why? 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Using search engines to research African American literary texts

By Kenton Rambsy and Howard Rambsy II

We considered varied features of online databases as we collected information on 300 African American texts.  We canvased five databases – JSTOR, Project MUSE, ProQuest, Google Scholar, and The New York Times, which has an extensive search function.

Overall, the databases supported our efforts to learn more about coverage of many Black writers and books.  We also learned about some of the challenges that emerge when pursuing this kind of project.

We thought critically about the possibilities and limitations of the search engines. We also wondered what these online searches might mean for scholars pursuing African American literary studies. 

The databases made it possible for us to collect information about a large number of authors and texts in a relatively short amount of time. We did initial data collection and organization during the course of a couple of months in our spare time. Decades ago, building such a robust dataset on 300 texts would not have been possible. 

ProQuest and JSTOR have options for users to download data, which we found especially helpful. We were seeking to construct datasets of materials, and we appreciated that at least some databases anticipate this kind of work. The interface allows us to explore the databases and download quantitative and qualitative information that can be used to make a dataset. The information about scholarly references facilitates our ability to curate data about the scholarship written about Black literature.

References and mentions to a work in an article does not reveal how thoroughly the text is mentioned. There is much in between a casual reference and extended analysis, yet most searches do not easily reveal the difference.  

Common words for book titles sometimes cause confusion. Toni Morrison published Beloved in 1987, but in certain databases, there are hits for the combination “Toni Morrison” and “Beloved” prior to 1987. How might databases distinguish between the term “beloved” and the novel Beloved? Similar slippages occur with the portion of the Transatlantic Slave Trade known as “the Middle Passage,” Robert Hayden’s poem “The Middle Passage,” and Charles Johnson’s novel The Middle Passage.

Moving forward, we will look at the databases individually. We will also offer findings of select authors and texts from our research.


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Haley Reading Group: Batman and the Outsiders, Part 3

[Haley Reading groups Fall 2020]

In Part 3 of Batman and the Outsiders, Bryan Hill creates two simultaneous tests -- one involving Duke Thomas (The Signal) being tested by Batman and another one involving Sofia being tested by Ra's Al Ghul. 

Batman disguises himself as one of Duke's past enemies, one who apparently made Duke feel insecure about his status and support system. Ra's Al Ghul, on the other hand, is encouraging Sofia to embrace anger and vengeance by being taunted by the person who killed her father. Hill and Dexter Soy collaborate to present a visual narrative that alternates between the two settings showing the tests. 

How did you respond to Hill's storytelling setup in part 3? Did you find the recurring switches between Batman's and Ra's Al Ghul's tests enjoyable, confusing, interesting, difficult to understand, useful, or something else? In brief, why did you have the response that you did? 

Haley Reading Group: Black Panther, Chapter 2

[Haley Reading groups Fall 2020]

One of Ta-Nehisi Coates's many notable contributions to his run on Black Panther was his presentation or reworking of the Dora Milaje. The group were originally created years before Coates took on the comic book, and their role was to serve as bodyguards for Black Panther. 

Coates narrates a tale of two of the women, Ayo and Anneka, taking on different roles, as they are compelled to rethink their roles as mere protectors. They are leading an uprising of sorts. 

Based on what you covered in chapter 2 of Black Panther, what thoughts did you have about Ayo and Anneka or the depiction of their experiences and actions?