Thursday, September 10, 2015
The Rise of Poet-Critics during the 1960s and 1970s
Nikki Giovanni did it. Amiri Baraka did it. So did Larry Neal and Haki Madhubuti and Carolyn Rodgers and Sarah Webster Fabio and Dudley Randall and June Jordan several others. They all published poems and essays in Negro Digest/Black World. Rarely have so many leading poets participated so actively and visibly in the critical discourse related to poetry.
The Black Arts Movement had this imperative of developing a "black aesthetic," that is, a critical framework for valuating African American artistic creations. One way to advance that process was through reviewing. Consequently, Giovanni, Randall, and numerous other poets published several reviews in Negro Digest/Black World.
Today, poets are active participants in the valuation of poetry and poets, but the most consequential work takes place somewhat behind the scenes. The professionalization of poetry on the one hand and African American literary discourse on the other, though, means that many poets write poems, while literary scholars write book reviews and scholarly articles (which might not be the same as essays on black writing).
By contrast, a look through issues of Negro Digest/Black World reveals that poets and critics were frequently blurring the lines between genres of writing. Giovanni and Fabio were reviewers, poets, and essayists. David Llorens was a journalist and a poet. Taken together, the writers produced a substantial body of creative and critical work.
• Blogging about Black World magazine