What if more major contemporary poets made their home cities as central to their works as novelist Tayari Jones has made Atlanta, as Colson Whitehead has made New York City, or as short story writer Edward P. Jones has made D.C.? What if more poets represented their locales the way Jay-Z reps Brooklyn or how Outkast, Lil Wayne, and T.I. hold down the South?
In the past, a couple of prominent poets became associated with notable locales. Langston Hughes and Harlem. Gwendolyn Brooks and Chicago. These days, it might be harder to link a major poet to distinct places like that for a number of reasons.
Perhaps the nature of academic appointments contribute to the lack of volumes or series of poems about the places where poets reside. Poets are often employed in cities where they were not born and raised. To the extent that large numbers of writers reflect on childhood locales and project those places as settings in their works, it is probably less likely that poets would focus on the cities where they are currently employed.
The explorations, deep memories, and extended commitments that literary artists create in places where they were born and raised apparently mean a lot more to them than where they are now. Imagine how impoverished rap would be if lyricists did not reflect--over and over--on the hoods where they came up, the blocks they used to hang out on back in the day.
Given how much spoken word artists navigate urban landscapes to attend various open mic sessions and different sets, they might be more likely to discuss aspects of the places that they occupy in their works. However, few of them are regularly recruited and employed by universities.
It might be a good idea for city officials and university English departments to build closer ties and partnerships. Doing so might result in poets signing on to compose pieces here and there about the cities where they are now employed. Or, perhaps, English Departments might even be inclined to offer a visiting professorship to local spoken word poets, especially those interested in highlighting aspects of their cities and its citizens.
• Poets as Black Urbanists