Thursday, June 30, 2016
Situating the bold & bodacious poetic voice of Mahogany L. Browne
The challenging questions right now are when and where to introduce students to the work of Mahogany L. Browne. Not if, but when and where. Got to get the timing and placement right in order to optimize the returns on the experience.
In the upcoming fall semester in one of my African American literature courses as we listen to audio recordings of black women poets reading their works, we'll definitely study Browne's work. We're covering her poem "Black Girl Magic," for one, alongside poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, Sonia Sanchez, Kelly Norman Ellis, Evie Shockley, Patricia Smith, and others.
There's all kinds of wonderfulness about Browne's "Black Girl Magic" -- the affirmations for black girls, the lyricism and phrasings, the dynamic modulations in her voice, the Black Arts/Black Power-like resonances, the links to historical and contemporary conversations about black girls and women. The poem will no doubt move the students in the class.
So do we listen to the piece early on, toward the middle, or late in the semester? Her poem, when covered early, could usefully set the tone. Then again, the poem could be a necessary jolt if placed in the middle of the term. At the same time, Browne's poem is a spectacular grand finale piece. Decisions, decisions.
What other poets do we cover on the day we first study Browne? We could link her poem with Brooks's "Song in the Front Yard" and Kelly Norman Ellis's "Raised by Women" to discuss poems focusing on black girls and women. Or, we could position Browne's "Black Girl Magic" alongside Maya Angelou's "Phenomenal Woman" and Nikki Giovanni's "Ego-Tripping" as we examine poems of powerful affirmation. We might consider Browne in relation to jessica care moore and Patricia Smith as we talk about the expertise of dynamic poetry readers. More decisions, more decisions.
Of course, I'm looking forward to thinking and rethinking my plans about the timing and placement of Browne's poem on my syllabus. I'm also excited about giving more thought to her bold, bodacious poetic voice. How might we describe what we hear from Browne along a continuum and as a kind of singular event?
• Can the sounds of black women's poetic voices get a witness?
• Blog entries about black women poets