Monday, July 29, 2013
Black arts poetry is a way of thinking
They all knew to write Malcolm and Coltrane poems. They frequently thought about black culture and the interests of African American audiences. And they had a sense that there was a "they" -- diverse and sometimes in conflict, but existing nonetheless.
There was this thing, yes, known as the Black Arts Movement. But we can even go further and say that black arts poetry was a way of thinking. Poets thought, wrote, agreed, and disagreed about common ideas, symbols, and topics. Observers have sometimes overestimated the agreement part; however, the attention to overlapping and interrelated concerns and approaches even while holding opposing views about those issues is what contributed to the idea that the movement was a movement, a discourse, a way of thinking.
Poets and audiences perceived Negro Digest / Black World as a central and important site of publication. They all knew who Amiri Baraka was and had a sense of why he and others felt compelled to change their names and adopt political positions. They were aware of Nikki Giovanni, Haki Madhubuti, Carolyn Rodgers, Sonia Sanchez, Margaret Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others.
Read enough of the poetry and essays, view the photographs, or listen to enough of the audio recordings, and you'll get a sense of the interconnectivity and recurring subjects and subject matter. You'll become conscious of widespread interest in the symbol of Africa, the idea of black pride, and the rhetoric of militancy. You'll get the sense that there was definitely some sort of black arts mindset.
• A Notebook on Black Arts Poetry