Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Contemporary African American Poetry -- supply & demand
African American poets have made many achievements over the last 12 or so years--winning awards, attaining notable academic appointments, and producing a rather expansive body of works. There are no shortages of published poetry and poets with MFA degrees. Basically, things are looking good on the supply side.
But what about the demand? Well, it depends.
Among poets and folks into poetry, demand is somewhat high. Also, because of he increasing number of poets and because of the increased possibility that African American poets now have legitimate shots at winning awards, there's more attention and perhaps demand.
But generally, demand seems to be low. On my campus at least, students are not really that excited about poetry per se. Well, some are excited about spoken word. I've also noticed that scholarship on contemporary poetry in literary journals is almost non-existent.
More importantly though, there are few, visible outreach programs and initiatives designed to encourage new and potential poetry audiences to study contemporary African American poetry. Where on campus, beyond a poetry or literature class, are people encouraged to consider poetry? Where, in the scholarly discourse beyond an article on a specific poet, are scholars and teachers encouraged to do so?
Interestingly, even though there's little attention to demand for poetry in these ways, poetry is not in threat of "dying." For one, a large enough number of people enjoy poetry. Second, and more notably, enough institutions are willing to fund poets and poetry awards, regardless of what general demand looks like.
But some of us should maybe give more thought to "recruitment." Even if we do not convince more non-poetry people to think about contemporary African American poetry, the outreach process might assist us learning more about the actual interests of students and general audiences.