Although fields of African American poetry have many enthusiasts, we have hardly seen the rise of a popular poetry user-generated content site like RapGenius, where dozens and dozens of contributors decode and illuminate lines of verse. Of course, I understand that many poets would rightly take issue with the unauthorized publication of their poems on the net. But are copyright issues the only barriers preventing us from having more robust and active line-by-line treatments of black poetry?
The social and sometimes public culture of decoding song lyrics, which predates rap music, likely helped fuel interest in an endeavor like RapGenius, where several contributors collaborate to explain the lyrics of a piece. Folks have long shown interest in explicating poetry, but the academic and professionalized nature of such practice has also assisted in determining that the enterprise would become decidedly less social and public.
What if, I wonder, African American poetry enthusiasts performed acts like those "rap geniuses" and collaborated on breaking down a common poem or set of poems? I imagine countless readers would appreciate and enjoy brief explanations of lines from works by Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Robert Hayden, Amiri Baraka, and many others. In addition, I believe those enthusiasts turned rap geniuses would stand to gain by participating in collaborative interpretive or decoding acts.
• A Notebook on RapGenius