Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Notes on popular writings concerning African American poetry

I was preparing a list of writings on poetry for a friend. For some reason, when she asked about some readings for students, I assumed she meant scholarly writings so that's what I began gathering. But really, scholarly writings on poetry aren't that widely read, and who knows if she even wanted scholarly writings? 

[Related: A list of popular writings concerning African American poetry and poets]

For popular pieces on poetry--African American and otherwise--we'd need to look beyond scholarly journals and university presses.  For instance, the obituaries that Margalit Fox wrote on Jayne Cortez in January of this year and on Lucille Clifton and Ai in 2010 were among the more widely read pieces on black poetry over the last few years, I imagine. As far as major news outlets go, poets are generally written about when they have a new book being reviewed; they are the recipients of a major award; or they are the subject of an obituary.

Interestingly, debates in African American poetry can draw some attention. Amiri Baraka's recent review/critique of Charles Rowell's anthology Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry and Helen Vendler's review/critique of Rita Dove's editorial work on The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry (2011) received more attention than is usually afforded to work involving poets. The fact that the reviews were non-positive may have helped fuel the intrigue and interest in the conversation.

Sometimes poetry gets brought up when folks are debating what it and is not poetry. When Jay-Z was doing the book tour for the release of his work Decoded (2010), he frequently mentioned that rap is poetry. Around the same time, The Anthology of Rap (2010) edited by Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois was published, which furthered intensified those conversations.  Accordingly, pieces like "How Ya Like Me Now" by Adam Kirsch from Poetry and "Word: Jay-Z's Decoded and the language of hip-hop" by Kelefa Sanneh from The New Yorker helped extend the conversations. Poet Kevin Young contributed to the discourse, by the way, with his review-article "Unwrapping the Message" focusing on The Anthology of Rap from Bookforum. Speaking of Young, his book The Grey Album is an important take on poetry and other aspects of African American literature and expressive culture, and the work received substantial coverage, particularly for a scholarly work. 

A notebook on other ways of reading African American poetry 
The year in African American poetry, 2012 
•  The year in African American poetry, 2011   
The Coverage of Rita Dove's Anthology 
Kevin Young's presence in the New York Times in 2012

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