Thursday, January 17, 2013

African American poetry vs. short stories

I somehow misread how my students might respond to the question of poetry vs. short stories. We're only three or so short stories into the semester, but I asked one class whether they preferred short stories or poems, which was our focus last semester. Everyone said....short stories. Short stories over poems? Really?

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. People tend to gravitate toward prose as opposed to verse when given the choice. Still, I expected the length of the stories in comparison to the brevity of the poems to tilt the balance toward poetry. The young folks I work with are more inclined to deal in the language of text messages, tweets, and status updates, more akin to verse, right? But that wasn't the case, at least for the class of students (all African American women) whom I queried the other day.

I plan to raise the same question (short stories or poetry?) to the young men that I work with to see how they respond. I am somewhat expecting a mixed response. The guys focused on "bad men" in African American poetry last semester, and I got the sense that some of them really enjoyed some of the pieces--in ways that  fewer of the young women enjoyed the poetry. Perhaps.

With poetry, one of the young sisters said, she was inclined to translate what poets said into stories in order to understand what the poets were trying to convey. With the short fiction, the stories are already there and clearer, she said. A part of me valued her act of translating, but I could understand why that might be off-putting to her and others.

I also started thinking that maybe I had not included enough poems that were in fact also stories (I'll look back at my list). Whatever the case, as I continue thinking through different reading interests of students, I'll pay attention to how student responses to short stories relates to their interest and disinterest in poetry.

Imagine a poetry campaign that took African American readers seriously
A growing distance between poets and readers? 
Toward a Sociology of African American Readers & Their Relationships to Poetry
Why potential poetry readers need advocates 

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