Monday, June 29, 2015

Black poetry in a time of mass murder

After the mass murder at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, there have been an outpouring of emotions, writings, and images on social media and in various publications. Since the terrible event, we've seen writings by many prominent African American academics, columnists, journalists, and commentators, including Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Nell Irvin Painter, Jelani Cobb, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

But what about black poets? Why do hear relatively little from prominent African American poets during moments like these, especially in comparison to various other writers? Poets are presumably skilled at writing about emotional ideas and interior thoughts that would necessarily lend themselves to a moment like this one, right? 

For various reasons, black poets are hardly included in the immediate published discourse. Mainstream news outlets invite black prose writers, not those who produce verse. As a result, the shortlist for those who appear in publications are academics, columnists, reporters, on occasion novelists, but hardly ever poets.  

Claudia Rankine recently published a piece in the Times. It's telling though that she is known as a "prose poet," already attuned to writing essays. Earlier in the  year, her book Citizen: An American Lyric was nominated in two categories -- poetry and criticism -- for National Book Critics Circle Awards.

But works by black poets seems absent at moments like these. I imagine poets, especially spoken word artists who are more known to address contemporary occurrences, are producing work on the subject, but somehow that work does not rise to the attention of many mainstream news outlets. Still, it's worth considering the voices, perspectives, and modes of writing we don't encounter even with the increased presence from black writers. 

1 comment:

jward said...

It is not likely that mass media has interest in what poets say or don't say. Most poets speak up and out to local audiences, to other poets, and to those who read their blogs, their postings on Facebook, Twitter, and so forth. Our nation is literate but not hyper-literate.

J. W. Ward, Jr.