Friday, June 14, 2013

Reading Cornelius Eady, Tyehimba Jess & Adrian Matejka...together

So...Jack Johnson, Leadbelly, and the black guy Susan Smith imagined walk into a bar....

Wait. You've already heard that one?  Really? we go, try this:

What's the literature teacher equivalent of a dj rocking three turntables at the same time? Yep, un-hunh, you guessed it--covering Cornelius Eady's Brutal Imagination (2001), Tyehimba Jess's Leadbelly (2005), and Adrian Matejka's The Big Smoke (2013). I'm not just talking about reading the books sequentially. This fall, I'm going to encourage one of my literature courses to mix and match their reading assignments of the three volumes, and see what we discover.

In you haven't read the three volumes yet, here's a brief summary. Eady's book is about a legendary bad man. Jess's book is about a legendary bad man. Matejka's book is about a legendary bad man. And at the risk of sounding cliche with the whole new Superman movie opening today, I still gotta tell you what I know: I've never seen Eady, Jess, and Matejka in the same place at the same time. Not spreading rumors, just saying.   

In all seriousness though, and as I've noted before, those three volumes and the bad men in them speak to each other in ways that I've been hard-pressed to see matched by various other groupings of books. I've enjoyed the books individually, but I'm looking forward to trying to work through the books with my crew together over the course of the semester as opposed to one at a time as is the usual practice in classes.

How might a somewhat simultaneous  approach to these three volumes increase or decrease student interest in reading poetry? Why might this approach be more desirable than my older, conventional one-at-a-time approaches, and what distinct reading and writing experiences can the students achieve as a result of this new process? The practice of reading Brutal Imagination, Leadbelly, and The Big Smoke will ideally get me to answers on those and other questions. 


Anonymous said...

This is a fantastic idea for a course. Have you thought about incorporating or referencing Kevin Young's series of Jack Johnson persona poems in To Repel Ghosts: The Remix?

H. Rambsy said...

Thanks. And yes, I'll certainly incorporate various other poems; Young's Jack Johnson series will be on the list.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if Rita Dove's Mulattica or Frank X Walker's book on Medgar Evers and Isaac Murphy fits here as well but I just love the poetry as biography that celebrates Black Men.

My apologies is this appears twice.

H. Rambsy said...

Thanks. I'll certainly mix those and a few other works into the larger mix. Fortunately for us, a large number of volumes that present biographies in verse have appeared over the last 10 years in particular.