Sunday, March 16, 2014

Are contemporary black women poets more likely than men to write sonnets?

Yesterday, my book orders finally arrived in the mail. One of the items I  ordered was Marilyn Nelson's How I Discovered Poetry (2014), which contains 50 unrhymed sonnets. Her book immediately went on my list of contemporary volumes featuring sonnets. When I take a look at that list now, I'm realizing that of the 10 poets represented, 7 are women.  

Now, my list is not a large enough sample to really draw solid conclusions, but I was inclined to wonder: are contemporary black women poets more likely than black men poets to write sonnets? Are there particular poetic forms and modes that one gender tends to prefer? Who, or what kind of poet, is more likely drawn to haiku, sestina, blues poems, jazz poems, or rap?

At least in my collection of poetry, Nelson has been a leading sonneteer. She authored A Wreath for Emmett Till (2005) containing a crown of 15 sonnets; she co-authored Miss Crandall's School for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color (2007) with Elizabeth Alexander, and their volume contains a sequence of 24 sonnets. And now Nelson's How I Discovered Poetry.I have not yet purchased all of Nelson's many books, so it's likely that she has produced even more.

How do we account for the idea that black women poets might be more likely to produce extended sonnet sequences than black men poets? Is there something about the form itself that draws women poets? Or, could it be that the form repels men?

If I am correct in my guess that young men  readers are often drawn to men poets and young women to women poets, then it's possible that we'll see more "new" African American poets not writing and writing sonnets along those familiar gender lines. Maybe. To the extent that MFA programs are likely to assign exercises and projects related to sonnets, more so than say, jazz poems, I expect that we'll often have poets, women and men, with formal training producing sonnets.

For now, until I purchase more books, contemporary black women poets remain the leading sonneteers in my collection.   

Sonnet Sequences and Contemporary African American Poetry
Allison Joseph and Sonnet Sequences   
Tyehimba Jess, Allison Joseph, and those sonnet sequences
•  14 Sonnets by 14 African American poets  
•  The Strength of Weak Ties in Nikky Finney's Sonnet Sequence 
Nikky Finney's George Bush Sonnet Sequence, Pt. 1 

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