Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bad, Phenomenal Women and Black Poetry

This semester in one of my classes, we'll take a look at "bad" and "phenomenal" women in poetry. We'll discuss how and why difficult  women on the one hand and remarkable women on the other hand serve as such inspiring figures for poets. We'll try to build a framework (or, list of questions and key points) for thinking about bad and phenomenal women over the course of the semester.

[Related: Bad Men and Black Poetry]

We'll begin by taking a look poems about slavery--poems that feature women ex-slaves or poems about ex-slaves by women poets. Next, we'll cover a variety poems about tough and extraordinary women. During the latter part of the semester, we'll take a look at Evie Shockley's volume the new black.

Here's a list of some of the poems, we'll cover:

• Opal Palmer Adisa - "Peeling Off the Skin"
• Elizabeth Alexander - "Nat Turner Dreams of Insurrection"
• Maya Angelou – "Still I Rise," "Phenomenal Woman"
• Gwendolyn Brooks – "kitchenette building," "a song in the front yard," "We Real Cool"
• Lucille Clifton – "slaveship," "Harriet," "homage to my hips," "wishes for sons," "won't you celebrate with me"
• Jayne Cortez – "I am New York City"
• Kelly Norman Ellis – "Raised by Women"
• Mari Evans – "I am a Black Woman"
• Nikki Giovanni – "Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why)," "Revolutionary Dreams"
• Frances E. W. Harper – "Bury me in a Free Land"
• Robert Hayden - "Runagate Runagate" 
• Langston Hughes – "Down and Out," "Madam and the Census Man," "Madam and the Phone Bill," "Madam and the Rent Man," and "Madam’s Past History"
• Allison Joseph – "Thirty Lines about the Fro," "Sonnet for a Good Mood"
• jessica Care moore – "The Black Statue of Liberty"
• Tracie Morris – "Project Princess"
• Carolyn Rodgers – "The Last M.F."
• Sonia Sanchez – "Summer Words of a Sustuh Addict," "a/needed/poem for my salvation"
• Patricia Smith – "Hip-Hop Ghazal," "Skinhead"
• Margaret Walker – "“My Truth and My Flame," "Kissie Lee," "Molly Means," "Bad-Man Stagolee"
• Phillis Wheatley – "On Being Brought From Africa to America"
• Kevin Young – "Femme Fatale"  

I've covered some of these poems and poets in previous years, but not in the context of bad and phenomenal women. I'm motivated to address this topic in part based on what young black women have expressed interest in over the years. They value Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj. They express admiration for Michelle Obama; they express disdain for "ghetto girls" and certain reality television stars. They have strong feelings about a range of women.

But poetry in and of itself? Not so much. They value and in fact are on the cutting edges of language though. So what if we switch the frame and situate poetry in relation to something we all really care about like bad and phenomenal women?

Poetry & the politics of "black woman" metaphors
Maya Angelou, Kelly Norman Ellis, poetry & collegiate black women

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