Sunday, December 21, 2014

Joshua Bennett's additional registers in #BlackPoetsSpeakOut

Off the top, three things stood out to me concerning Joshua Bennett's contribution to #BlackPoetsSpeakOut. For one, he was one of few poets to read a poem about the brutal violence against a black woman. Many of the protests and thus poems in the series have concentrated on black men such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and others.

Bennett however focuses on Renisha McBride, a 19-year-old killed in Detroit in November 2013. At one point, he asks, "why don't we grieve for women, for girls the same way we do for men, our vanishing boys?"  So his poem contributes to tributes and usefully raises questions about the typical focus.  

Second, what stood out to me was the nature of Bennett's presentation and delivery. On YouTube, I am more accustomed to seeing him reading his poetry in front of large crowds. He is an accomplished spoken word artist, and his work has been posted extensively online. 

Here's a sampling, a small sampling, by year of YouTube postings featuring Bennett:
2008: Joshua Bennett @ the nuyo
2008: Tamara's Opus - Josh Bennett (UPenn) - CUPSI Finals
2009: CUPSI - Finals - Joshua Bennett (Penn)
2009: joshua bennett @ IWPS round 3
2010: DH2 Joshua Bennett Guest Performance
2010: 10 Things I Want To Say To A Black Woman by Joshua Bennett
2011: Joshua Bennett - "Dear Stevie" (In the Key of Love)
2011: Joshua Bennett - Coventry Uni
2012: Joshua Bennett - Transatlantic Love Manifesto
2012: Joshua Bennett - Hip Hop
2013: Joshua Bennett "Sing it as the Spirit Leads"
2013: Joshua Bennett - 16 Bars for Kendrick Lamar 
2014: Claiming Williams: Strivers Row / Joshua Bennett
2014: #‎BlackPoetsSpeakOut: Joshua Bennett, "Theodicy" (for Renisha McBride)
Bennett's presence on YouTube reading his poetry is more than any of the poets who contributed to #BlackPoetsSpeakOut. When and if you only encounter his work in the context of that project though, you might not realize that he is far more known for his performances. He adheres to the mode or form of presentation adopted by #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, and he sits alone and reads from a printed text or words on a screen.

Finally, the third thing that stood out to me was that Bennett was not reading from memory. In most of the pieces he delivers in presentations, which appear on YouTube, Bennett reads from memory. Reading from memory, of course, is a notable feature in the genre of performed poetry, spoken word, and rap. Bennett is known to recite elaborate pieces or "by heart," as we say.

Overall, Bennett's contribution to #BlackPoetsSpeakOut simultaneously diversifies the overall body of his work on YouTube. We get the chance to witness him accessing his additional artistic registers.

 • A Notebook on #BlackPoetsSpeakOut

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