Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Production of "New" Poets

Fascinating developments that occurred in the mid-1920s and in the mid to late 1960s were the production of "new" black poets. The designation "new" was frequently assigned to poets associated with the Harlem Renaissance and later with the Black Arts Movement. That "new" assigned to the New Negro Movement of the 1920s and the New Black Poetry of the 1960s, I would say, was integral to the writers' success in becoming and remaining widely known.

I was recently questioning the notable silence related to African American poetry activities that took place between 1977 - 1987. It's possible, though, that the silence is more typical, and what is strange or out of the ordinary are those rare moments when considerable energies are concentrated on the categorization and promotion of "young" and new literary artists. If a large enough group of interrelated poets and their supporters can convince audiences that the writers represent something fresh or innovative, then they have a distinct advantage in the marketplace and literary history.

Fresh, innovative poets produced and continue to produce original, exciting work each year. However, the institutional support and well-placed, vibrant appraisals necessary to raise the visibility of emergent writers  are not always present. In short, most poets lack the requisite promotional apparatuses that would celebrate and popularize their newness.

Without the organizing support of Alain Locke, his anthology The New Negro, and the tagline "the Harlem Renaissance," it's possible that figures like Langston Hughes, Helene Johnson, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, and others would be far less well known. Similarly, without the many anthologies published during the 1960s/70s, the expansive reach and support of the periodical Negro Digest/Black World, and the label "the Black Arts Movement," we might be less familiar with poets such as Nikki Giovanni, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, and a host of others.       

Large numbers of poets of various eras, including writers who produced work between 1977 - 1987, did not  lack sufficient talent. What they were more importantly in short supply on was the tremendous support required to promote and validate the quality of just how new they were.

A Notebook on the Black Arts Era

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