Saturday, February 8, 2014

Black Arts poets as problem-finders

Part of what made poetry of the 1960s and 1970s such a memorable and powerful force in African American and American literary history were the extents to which leading artists and editors conceived of themselves as problem-finders. They were constantly identifying and trying to work through what they perceived of as problems associated with the overall state of poetry.

Some felt that the problem was that "white" journals did not accept works by black poets. Some felt that it was a problem that black poets would even want to publish in presumable white journals. Some felt that poetry needed to become more fiery. Some felt that it was not black enough or that it was too black.

Many felt that black poets should abandon conventional text-based approaches and become more attuned to performance and music. Remember, Larry Neal, in the afterword to Black Fire (1968):
Listen to James Brown scream. Ask yourself, then, Have you heard a Negro poet sing like that, of course not, because we have been tied to the texts, like most white poets. The text could be destroyed and no one would be hurt in the least by it. The key is in the music. Our music today has always been far ahead of our literature. Actually, until recently, it was our only literature, except for, perhaps, the folktale.
 The idea that black poets and perhaps people did not have their own place drove the idea of the Black Aesthetic. The lack of "our own" spaces drove poets like Dudley Randall and Haki Madhubuti to establish black-owned publishing companies and several others t o produce magazines. The question of "what is a black poem?" prompted poet Eugene B. Redmond to produce Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry (1976), one of the most extraordinary studies of black poetry ever produced.   

According to creativity scholars, problem finding, more so than problem solving, characterizes those who are especially creative and innovative. An unusually high number of leading black arts writers and organizers appear to have adopted problem-finding styles. That could explain why they had such far-reaching results.

The Black Arts Era 

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