[The Big Smoke reading group]
A number of the poems is Adrian Matejka’s The Big Smoke make reference of the privilege Jack Johnson experienced as a heavy weight boxing champion. “Chicken & Other Stereotypes” juxtaposes the privilege of being a heavy weight boxing champion and burden of being a black man in the early 20th century.
In Johnson’s run in run-in with the police officer, we also find an inner and outer response to the unjustified stop. Inside, the heavyweight champion thinks to himself, “Like I would stash a stolen/ hen where I sit.” Outwardly, he skillfully subverts the implications of the stereotype, even in compliance with it, through his diction, “Mr. Officer,/ please understand: no stolen chicken/ ever passed the portals of my face./ Those chickens see the gleam/ in my eye & and keep out of my way.”
What did you gather about the experience of being a black man in the early 20th century based on Johnson’s dual inward and outward thinking in the poem?
--Jeremiah Carter and Howard Rambsy II