Monday, May 21, 2012

3 Notable Trends in Contemporary African American Poetry

There are many trends that have taken place in the publication of African American poetry over the last 10 or so years. For now, I'll start with three trends that have caught my attention and identify seven or so volumes that correspond to  each of the trends. 

A focus on history -- Large numbers of poets concentrate on history in their works. They produce poems that highlight notable moments of the page or experiences of key historical figures.

Examples: Marilyn Nelson's Carver (2001), Frank X. Walker's Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York (2004),  Elizabeth Alexander's American Sublime (2005), Tyehimba Jess's leadbelly (2005), Natasha Trethewey's Native Guard (2006), Rita Dove's Sonata Mulattica (2009), Camille T. Dungy's Suck on the Marrow (2010),  and Kevin Young's Ardency (2011).

The composition & publication of sonnet sequences -- In recent years an increasing number of poets have produced volumes that contain crowns of sonnets or extended series of sonnets. African American poets have always produced sonnets, but over the last decade, several volumes have included series of interconnected 14-line poems. 

Examples: Tyehimba Jess's leadbelly (2005), Marilyn Nelson's A Wreath for Emmett Till (2005), Natasha Trethewey's Native Guard (2006), Allison Joseph's My Father’s Kites (2010), John Murillo's Up Jump the Boogie (2010),  Nikky Finney's Head Off & Split (2011), and Patricia Smith's Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (2012)

Book-length or extended series of persona poems -- For a decade now, poets have produced full-length volumes or extended series featuring persona poems. Often, the works concentrate on historical figures. 

Examples: Cornelius Eady's Brutal Imagination (2001), Frank X. Walker's Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York (2004), Thylias Moss's Slave Moth (2004), Quraysh A. Lansana's They Shall Run (2004), Tyehimba Jess's leadbelly (2005), Natasha Trethewey Native Guard (2006), Patricia Smith's Blood Dazzler (2008), and Kevin Young's Ardency (2011).

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