Monday, August 6, 2012

Creative communities of poet-scholars & essayist-poets

Scholarly books by the poets Tony Bolden and Evie Shockley

There's rightly considerable conversation about creative communities and interactions among poets. They frequently coordinate writing workshops and readings together. They also study in common schools and retreats and publish together in anthologies. By contrast, the creative and artistic sides of scholarly communities are less visible, well, that is, unless the scholarship is also being produced by poets.  

[Related:  15 Scholarly Books on African American Poetry]

A number of the scholars who write about African American poetry are themselves poets. Eugene B. Redmond, Aldon Nielsen, Tony Bolden, Evie Shockley, Melba Boyd, William J. Harris, Kevin Young, Meta DuEwa Jones, Lorenzo Thomas, and more are all published poets as well as authors of scholarly books.

Poet-scholars, essayist-poets, and reviewer-poets have a long history in the field. Langston Hughes's "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," Larry Neal's "Th Black Arts Movement" and "Any Day Now," and Carolyn Rodgers's series of articles on poetry for Negro Digest / Black World are a few essays that stand out in African American literary history. Poets Nikki Giovanni, Kalamu ya Salaam, Jerry W. Ward, Jr., Elizabeth Alexander, Keith Gilyard, and C. Liegh McInnis have produced numerous essays as well. And of course, there's the looming figure Amiri Baraka, author of poems, books on music, plays, short stories, you name it.     

Early on in my work as an artist, I viewed myself as a poet. But for years now, I've devoted most of my creative energies to mixed media poetry exhibits, web design projects, photography, and black studies public humanities activities. Nonetheless, I continue to draw inspiration from models like Hughes, Neal, and Rodgers, and from regular interactions with communities of scholar-artists.

The folks I associate with who are primarily poets are, in general, especially knowledgeable about developments in contemporary poetry and the experiences and activities of fellow poets. For the most part, the folks who are primarily scholars are knowledgeable about intellectual histories, the value of archival work, and scholarship in particular areas. There are necessarily disconnects concerning values, writing styles, and topics of interest among scholars and artists, aside from those, mentioned above, who are artist-scholars.

Despite the emergence of a few creative writing Ph.D. programs here and there and the widespread promotion of "interdisciplinary" work in the academy, disconnects between scholars and contemporary poets seem likely to persist. Professional demands can often create distance between people occupying different fields. The presence of that distance is one reason why the works of scholar-poets or poet-scholars are even more important.

Black Intellectual Histories

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great observations -- It's well worth noting that many of the poet/critics you mention constitute a community themselves, organizing panels and conferences (think of Bolden's Funk Symposia, or example), reading each other's works and supporting one another's efforts -- Much like an ongoing, international, virtual workshop --