Friday, June 1, 2012

A disconnect between struggling black men and contemporary poetry

I'm sometimes frustrated with the apparent indifference in contemporary poetry in general concerning the conditions of black men, especially struggling black men. It seems troubling that so few poems address the structural problems that create hostile environments and limited opportunities for black men.

In view of my extended work on poetry, I hope my occasional frustrations will not be taken as absolute indictment of contemporary poets and poetry. On the contrary, I suspect that my disappointment rests on the core belief that poets and poetry are capable of achieving immeasurable good.

The worlds of black men I inhabit seem to be much more mindful and receptive to worlds of poetry than worlds of poetry seem to them. The young brothers I work with at the university for instance are open to thinking about the subject matter presented by a range of poets. It's less likely, however, to encounter poets who deal directly and extensively with educational and socioeconomic struggles so central to those young black men.  

Maybe I'm expecting too much? Non-black poets seem hardly equipped or inclined to really deal with something like structural racism that affects black men, and many contemporary African American poets, at least those most recognized, tend to shy away from highly charged racial topics unless those topics are confined to the distant past. Addressing those issues of the past are clearly vital, but I'm led to wonder if the larger profession and reward systems of poetry historical forms of oppression as opposed to issues such as the very contemporary "new Jim Crow."

I suppose it's not surprising that when given the option, black men choose rap over formal poetry. Despite (and sometimes because of) its many problems, rap music does channel some on the ground concerns and impulses that contemporary poetry does not. It's still unfortunate, I think, that more aspects of the poetry field does not turn its attention to young black men, and it's perhaps also disappointing that so few black men expects the field to do more than it already does.    

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rap also has the potential for money that poetry does not.

That said, my impression of the prominent black male poets is that they resent the pressure to write committed poems -- check out this panel with all the big names and how they are all at pains to recuse themselves from any BAM-type obligations.

On a personal level, I wonder where a poet who wrote such opems would even send them. Besides Callaloo and Wasafiri, I don't think there is a regularly published, well-put-together journal that invites formal poetry and has a black readership.