Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Militant poets, funny poems

One of the things you sometimes forget or never fully realize is how humorous black arts poets tended to be in their writings and public presentations. In summaries and brief sketches, the Black Arts Movement is often represented with its most militant poems, so the humor and joke poems get left out. And that's a shame given how prevalent the funny poems were during the era.

In his poem "The New Integrationist," Haki Madhubuti writes that he seeks the "integration of negroes with black people." In his poem "But He was Cool," Madhubuti writes sarcastically about a guy who was so cool that he was "nicknamed refrigerator." Madhubuti's volumes of poetry are filled with jokes like those.

Carolyn Rodgers has humor here and there in her work, and perhaps her funniest poem is "The Last M.F." She vows not to use the MF word anymore then proceeds to keep mentioning it throughout the poem as she explains that she'll stop. Students get a good laugh out of that piece when we cover it in class.

Ishmael Reed's poem "Flight to Canada" is still one of the all-time funniest poem in my classes, as gauged by the students laughing out loud every year that I read it during the courses. Students also enjoy the humor in poems by Sonia Sanchez, Larry Neal, Etheridge Knight, and Henry Dumas that we cover.

And no wonder black arts folks projected humor in their works, given the influence of Malcolm, one of our greatest militant-minded joke tellers. These days, the humor among black arts poets is still there. I mean, you'd be hard-pressed to find any two black poets who prompt more belly-aching laughter during a reading than Nikki Giovanni and Amiri Baraka.

A Notebook on Black Arts Poetry

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