Thursday, August 27, 2015
Poets make Basquiat, Leadbelly & Jack Johnson Legible
One cool irony of Looking for Leroy, which focuses on illegible black masculinities, is that Mark Anthony Neal ends up enhancing the legibility of several black men, including Gene Anthony Ray, Avery Brooks, Luther Vandross, Jay Z, Stringer Bell, and others. I read those men more clearly now. I couldn't help but think that Neal's efforts concerning legibility as analogous in some ways to what we've seen with several full-length volumes of poetry concentrating on historical figures.
Kevin Young's To Repel Ghosts (2001) provides all kinds of takes on the life and mind of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Tyehimba Jess's Leadbelly (2005) traces the life of the legendary folk musician Huddie Ledbetter, and Adrian Matejka's The Big Smoke (2013) offers a history in verse of the legendary boxing champion Jack Johnson. Although each of those men were highly visible, aspects of their lives and who they were remained illegible for many years. Making Basquiat, Leadbelly & Jack Johnson legible were apparently driving creative imperatives for the poets.
• Tyehimba Jess
• Adrian Matejka
• Kevin Young