Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Reading poetry with collegiate black men

Students in class working on assignment on poetry, Fall 2012

This semester, I'll teach another course for first-year black men. And again, we'll cover poetry. One of our main projects will involve reading volumes at Cornelius Eady, Tyehimba Jess, and Adrian Matejka...at the same time.

Then, we'll also cover several "bad man" poems, a process that has become standard over the last couple of years at least. Somehow during the process of covering poems with groups of guys over the years, I realized that they were taking a special interest in poems featuring troubled and troubling black men. So I began organizing a selection of pieces that we'd cover such as Langston Hughes's "Bad Man," Margaret Walker's "Stagolee," Etheridge Knight's "I Sing of Shine," Ishmael Reed's "Flight to Canada," and more.

In the past, before we begin covering poems, the guys say that they are interested in the "history" that we gain from reading black poetry. In fact, they frequently refer to it as "our history," signaling a sense of African American community and consciousness. I'll be sure to highlight the history, but moving forward, I'll also work to encourage the fellas to think about the stylistic features of the poetry as well.
 It stands out to me and later to the guys that this class is the only one that most of them cover during their college experience that focuses on so many writings by and about black men. In fact, my knowledge that the young men will unfortunately encounter relatively little work by African Americans has motivated me to provide wide coverage over the years.  

Bad Men as Muses for Black Poets

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