Friday, August 2, 2013

Black arts era poetry as a genre

A few years ago poet Eugene B. Redmond told me about an incident that occurred after a poetry reading during the late 1960s. Redmond had recently graduated from the creative writing program at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and he was giving a reading in his hometown East St. Louis, Illinois. After the reading, a man from the audience walked up to Redmond and said something like "I want to hear some of that new black poetry."

Redmond was struck by the request, which at the moment seemed somewhat unusual. That man, Redmond learned, had spent some time in New York recently, and he was hearing something that was presumably "new" and "black" in poetry readings by African Americans. That experience, Redmond informed me, contributed to his developing views of and curiosities about black poetry.

A few things stood out to me about Redmond's reflections on that episode. For one, I'm intrigued with the sense that "new black poetry" or black arts era poetry was viewed as a type of poetry, or a genre almost. There's no small coincidence that the phrase "black poetry" became most pronounced during that time period.     

Second, the  idea that black poets did not necessarily write "black poetry" at all times indicates a diversity of poetry during the 1960s and 1970s that is not always acknowledged. Black arts era poetry constituted a genre, and there were apparently genres of the poetry even within that field.

Finally, the role of audience in the transmission and expansion of black poetry is noteworthy here. A non-poet--not a teacher or not a fellow poet--was who impressed upon Redmond in this particular situation to reconsider the type of poetry that he might produce and research. Among other things, responding to the request for "black poetry" helped prompt Redmond to produce a remarkable book entitled Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry.   

A Notebook on Black Arts Poetry

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