Friday, May 18, 2018

Listening to 100 black women poets reading 200 poems

As part of a research project that I'm currently working on, I spent the last couple of weeks listening to more than 200 recordings of poems by slightly more than 100 black women poets. In addition to thinking and writing more about the sounds of poets reading, I've been expanding my approaches to utilizing audio recordings in my classes. Based on my experiences listening to the poems, I'd definitely encourage teachers to incorporate more black women poets reading their works into class sessions.

[Related30 black women poets reading their works]

Over the years, my students, especially my black women students, would suggest spoken word artists as alternatives and complements to the poetry we covered in class. Their suggestions were gentle nudges and critiques of the limits of print-based poetry. They were rightly questioning why the print-based poetry was privileged and why readings by several of those poets were less interesting than the dynamic, poetic black speech that they were encountering in their everyday lives.

Listening to 100 black women poets -- from Margaret Walker (1915-1998) to Amanda Gorman (b. 1998) -- offers an understanding of poetry that is not always evident when and if you read or listen to just one kind of poetry, even one kind of black poetry. You hear different tones, pitches, intensity, pronunciations, accents, paces, and on and on. You come across poets who read softly and timidly, others who read loudly, boldly, and others in between.

You notice that poets who read from the page sound differently than poets who recite their words from memory. They sometimes have different paces and rhythms. Generally, I noticed a wider variety of reading styles among those reciting their works--with some taking on a conversational tone, some enacting the personas of others, some imagining a specific recipient, and some interspersing jokes.

There's also the matter of audience. Some poetry contexts have listeners who sit calmly and clap after poets finish reading. Then, there are other audiences offering affirmations ("Go girl!" "Come on!" "Yes!") for the poets throughout the readings.

Throughout the summer, I plan to produce periodic entries about discoveries I make as I continue to analyze the recordings. From what I've heard so far though and combined with my thoughts about working with students, I'd recommend teachers and professors making the sounds of black women reading out loud more of a priority in classes.

30 black women poets reading their works: From M. Walker, G. Brooks to A. Matthews, A. Gorman
• Dynamic black women speakers vs. flat sounding poets
• Why some black poetry sounds boring to black students (abstract)
• Understanding the favorite poets of black women students
• Notes on "Beyond Poet Voice"

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