Saturday, January 26, 2013

Ignoring black poetry and black readers

Check out the debates surrounding Alexandra Petri's opinion piece in the Washington Post "Is Poetry Dead?" from January 22. Her musing that the art-form had lost its way set off so many responses that a few days later when she wrote a follow-up "‘Poetry is not dead,’ says poetry," she could link to several writings that critiqued her initial position. There was an even more furious response to her article on twitter.

Petri is a clever and apparently easy-going writer, so her response to the responses provided for a humorous read. She gave some ground here and there, acknowledging that she could have phrased her first premise a little better. "Poetry revives if attacked. It grows stronger. It likes the fight," she wrote. "Maybe a better question would be, 'is Poetry too alive for its own good?'"

As I read Petri and her interlocutors, I couldn't help but notice a couple of notable absences on both sides of the argument. And (sigh), I hate to bring up race; however, when folks cited evidence about the life or death of poetry, there was little mention of black poetry. There was hardly any talk of black readers.

There were likely other absences along demographic lines, but given my own interests, I was somehow surprised, though perhaps I shouldn't have been, that Petri nor her opponents seemed concerned about citing African American poets and commentators on poetry, black literary trends, or African American readers disinterested in poetry. Perhaps, they assumed that so goes poetry, so goes black poetry?

Maybe, they avoided bringing up race because it would have further complicated the poetry discussion and debate. Also, sometimes well-meaning white people in the poetry world and beyond avoid talking about race and black people for fear of saying the wrong thing. And then some of us end up feeling like they're simply ignoring black poets and black readers.

1 comment:

john phillips said...

Jayne Cortez, a definite Poet of the evolution of consciousness, inspiring enthusiastic protest, and accountability to universal human rights.