Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Transformative Possibilities of Black Poetry

Superhero Tracie Morris disguised as a poet
On Wednesday, April 25, I gave a short talk and produced a mixed media poetry exhibit at the University of Missouri (Mizzou ) in Columbia, MO. I was invited to contribute to the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center's  Black Arts Festival.

For my presentation, I focused on the transformative possibilities of black poetry.  In particular, I discussed how artists such as Amiri Baraka, Jayne Cortez, Tracie Morris, Jessica care Moore, and Dometi Pongo have utilized a range of verbal and poetic practices to produce really powerful work. There's something technologically advanced, I was saying to the group at the presentation, about the human voice especially in the hands, or better yet, in the utterances of skilled literary and musical artists.

Folks like Baraka, Morris, Moore, and our black studies contributor Pongo employ a range of different paces, voice modulations, tones, word arrangements, and volumes in their readings or performances. There's this sense that they are transforming their identities and the idea of poetry when they are expressing their ideas.  In some respects, their poetic and performance displays are like verbal equivalents of something we might find in superhero narratives.

Look up in the sky. It's a bird; it's a plane. Nah, it's just Amiri Baraka reading poetry. Or check it out: in the flash of an eye, the poet Tracie Morris transforms herself into a supernatural sonic force. Sure, our guy Pongo had Malcolm in mind for that mixtape, but with all the lyrical slashing and slicing his does, it's not impossible to consider that rhyme-wise Pongo was envisioning himself as another kind of X-man.   

The refusal of black poets to perform the roles of mild-mannered literary artists constitutes one of the longest-running breakthroughs in the history of American expressive culture. 

Mixed Media Poetry Exhibits

No comments: