Sunday, November 17, 2019
The trouble with black poetry studies
The field of black poetry has had expansive growth over the last twenty years. Well, in some ways. Today, we have more poets, more volumes of poetry, more retreats, more MFAs and MFA program, more awards and fellowships. There just hasn't been notable growth in the scholarly realm.
Black poetry studies struggles. There are reviews of individual books, sure. There are interviews here and there, and an occasional profile. But take a look through scholarly journals -- African American Review, Callaloo, CLA Journal, MELUS, etc. --- and you'll see relatively little scholarship on contemporary black poetry during a moment when everywhere else the field is growing.
I think there are a lot of reasons why we've seen so little by way of criticism and extended commentary. For one, people aren't exposed to the study of contemporary African American poetry early on in, say, high school, and then in college. Too, with relatively few specialists in the field in any given place, there aren't many special classes on contemporary, and not enough is being passed on to new generations of scholars and commentators who might focus on black poetry.
There has been tremendous financial investment in contemporary poets and poetry publications. The same can't be said of the investments in the development of black poetry scholars and writing about poetry. Of course, there's isn't enough investment in critical discourses in artistic realms well beyond contemporary black poetry.
Finally, there are many more artforms capturing people's attention these days. Folks in literature, for instance, are studying and writing about film, television shows, YouTube series, music, comic books, and so forth. Contemporary black poetry comes in low on this list of topics to write about.
Moving forward, I'll try to explore some of the issues in a little more depth with the hopes of seeing where there's room for improvements.
• What if contemporary African American poetry had Black Arts-like scholarly support?
• 50 scholarly books on black poetry, 1997-2018
• A partial list of Black Arts-related scholarship, 2004 - 2015