Monday, December 17, 2012

Too much or not enough African American poetry?

Ask the students in my courses about the amount of black poetry we cover, and they'll be quick to inform you that we cover too much. They understand that the more poems we cover in a class, the more that they will be responsible for knowing about for essays and exams. More importantly, they feel somewhat overwhelmed by encountering so many new and unfamiliar poets and poems.

Ask contemporary poets about my list of poems and list of volumes of poetry, and most of them could, in a matter of seconds, tell you who and what's missing. Their profession and expertise incline them to have knowledge of a large number of poets and poems, so they can easily spot omissions or what they view as insufficient treatments of the field. In fact, almost every time I publish a poetry list, a poet contacts me to inform me of a poet or poem that I left off.

The discrepancies concerning too few vs. too many prompt me to regularly think about different quantities related to African American poetry. For my courses, I'm always wondering what's the optimal balance of poems so that students are not overwhelmed beyond the point of information or poetry overload and then not under-exposed to the broad range of works out there. Given my sense that fields of poetry are quite expansive, I am also inclined to think about presenting representative bodies of work.   

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