Wednesday, May 23, 2018
The popular appeal of black women poets reciting their works
If you ever take the time to look at more than 100 black women poets reading their works, you might notice an important difference. Some of them read from the page, while others recite their works from memory. For a variety of reasons, prominent print or page-based poets have generated far more prestige, awards, and coverage over the last two decades in particular. However, you'll notice that on YouTube, at least, black women poets who recite their works command considerable more attention.
For example, clips by Tracy K. Smith, Natasha Trethewey, and Rita Dove, to name three of our most notable award-winning poets, receive between 15,000 and 18,000 views for their most watched poems on YouTube. By contrast, Neiel Israel's "When a Black Man Walks" has been viewed over 245,000 times. Jae Nichelle's "Friends With Benefits" has been viewed 300,000 times. Porsha O's signature "Angry Black Woman" poem has been viewed over 463,000 times.
What are we to make of the popular appeal of black women poets who recite their works in comparison to those who read from the page?
By the way, when I blog about the differences between poets who read from the page and poets who recite, I receive agitated, back-channel messages from observers who worry that I'm not giving the page poets enough credit. Interestingly, given my overall body of work here and the most frequent poet focal subjects of scholars, it's in fact supporters of poets who recite, also known as spoken word artists, who should feel under-appreciated.
Some poets who recite their works blur the lines between poetry reading and performance. Airea D. Matthews's delivery of "Wisdom" comes off as a dramatic monologue, more so than a conventional poetry reading. Jae Nichelle's "My Lips" reminds me of a short comedy sketch in some ways. Ebony Stewart's "Happy Father's Day" is a poem, I suppose, but it's also a searing statement to a father.
People collectively view these recitations tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of times for a variety of reasons. For inspiration. For entertainment value. For the knowledge and ideas conveyed. For guidance on how to perform and read.
I'm excited about including more examples of poets who recite their works in my upcoming classes and learning more about why so many of my students are captivated by the works.
• Listening to 100 black women poets reading 200 poems
• 30 black women poets reading their works: From M. Walker, G. Brooks to A. Matthews, A. Gorman
• Dynamic black women speakers vs. flat sounding poets
• Why some black poetry sounds boring to black students (abstract)
• Understanding the favorite poets of black women students
• Notes on "Beyond Poet Voice"