Saturday, May 11, 2013

The pace of publishing: Another reason black poetry focuses on history

Not long after his return trip from Cuba and receiving considerable criticism, Jay-Z produced an "Open Letter" responding to his critics. Over a year ago, Jay released a song "Glory" to celebrate the birth of his daughter Blue Ivy shortly after she was born.  Like many rappers, Jay-Z continually reveals that being able to speak on timely topics is an important feature of hip hop as a field.

Poetry doesn't work like that. It can take months and sometimes years for a poem to appear in print after it is first written. In comparison to rap music, for example, the pace of publishing poetry is relatively slow. In comparison to novels, short stories, and plays, the pace of publishing poetry is somewhat quicker.

Given the time it takes for poems to appear in print, poets are perhaps rightly more inclined to write about  historical subjects than contemporary ones. Write a poem about Harriet Tubman or Martin Luther King Jr. today, and you can rest assured that not a whole lot will have changed with them two years later by the time your poem is published. That's not the case if you decide to write a poem about Michelle Obama or Kanye West. (Note to my historian friends: I recognize that historical subjects and topics do change and don't remain static over time.)

The somewhat slow pace at which poetry is published means that getting poems into print about up-to-date, popular culture topics is a challenge. In addition, based on the kinds of poems continually re-printed in anthologies and the kinds of African American literary works most celebrated and valued, there could even be a disincentive for poets to devote full volumes to contemporary subjects. The pace of the publishing suggests that the field is not necessarily designed to engage daily news.

Now, poets who regularly post their works on websites and blogs or on facebook might be more inclined to address contemporary topical issues in their works. However, many established poets are less likely to take that route. So what we have in realms of black poetry is a major focus on history.       

The value of "our" history for African American collegiate poetry readers 
Why Few Contemporary Poets Focus on Contemporary Subjects

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