Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Demographics of African American Poetry

When poet and editor Don Share referenced a  recent high profile conversation about the demographics of American poetry, he could easily add "deja vu!" to the title of his write-up. Such conversations, hmmm, debates about whether there are too many or too few poets have been taking place in informal and formal ways for some time now. Usually, in the informal contexts, you'll hear folks talking about MFA programs as factories, producing  way too many poets. And hey, that's just in the print-based world.

Hang with the veteran spoken word folks around St. Louis, for instance, and you'll hear complaints about there being way too many poets on the scenes right now in the city. On the flip side, I hear folks mentioning how there's not enough poets, by which they end up meaning certain kinds of "good" poets. And again, I'm just referring to the St. Louis spoken word scene--however big and small we conceive of that scene.

The larger conversation taking place about the demographics of poetry (some of which I cite below) have been useful and fascinating. Of course, given my own teaching and writing interests, I've been inclined to wonder whether there is: Too much or not enough African American poetry?   

Beyond or even prior to addressing the 'too many or not enough' question, I'd be interested in hearing more conversation about the actual numbers. Perhaps, the difficulties of identifying each and every African American poet would make it impossible to get an accurate count. We have wide disagreement about racial and ethnic categories (i.e. black poets, African American poets, poets who happen to be black, etc.). We also have some varying opinions about the term "poet," with genres like spoken word and rap helping to blur the categories.

Despite...or in spite of those issues, we might still profit from more conversations about the seemingly unwieldy demographics of African American poetry.  

Entries related to the numbers of American poets out there:
• November 29: "Too many poets, deja vu!" -- Squandermania and other foibles -- Don Share  
• November 28: "The Demographics of American Poetry" -- Boston Review -- Mike Chasar and Jed Rasula
• September 12: The Poetry Factory: On Mass-Submission Culture -- VQR -- Sean Bishop 
• September 11: Too many poets don't spoil the soup (or do they?) -- Squandermania and other foibles -- Don Share 
• September 9: Too Many Writers: The Best Problem in Contemporary Poetry -- Bark -- Brett Ortler
• May/June: Poetry on the Brink -- Boston Review -- Marjorie Perloff

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