Thursday, July 19, 2018

Poems by younger poets for younger students

Student views and listens to video of poet Jae Nichelle reading

What if we offered younger students more opportunities to study younger poets, that is, poets under the age of 30 in our classes? That's a question I've been asking myself lately as I've studied sounds of poetry and worked with high school students and first-year college students.

Based on self-reports from teachers and students and from my observations at conferences and of scholarly journals, I sense that many college professors favor conventionally established poets, under-studied yet important poets, or emergent contemporary poets who possess the requisite cultural capital, such as degrees and award-winning volumes of poetry from prestigious institutions. Many of the poets covered are over the age of 40.

I've heard less discussion of ways that college professors are seeking to meet the needs and interests of younger generations of black students though (That's not to say the conversations don't take place). Over the last few years, I've worked much harder to expose students to a large inter-generational cohort of poets. Some of the poets are canonical and born over a hundreds year ago, like Langston Hughes, Robert Hayden, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Others are in their early twenties and thirties.

When the younger students are presented with images and sounds of poets reading their works, they strongly favor the younger poets over much older poets. The students also prefer poets who recite their works over those who read from the page. The students, especially my black women students, have the strongest positive reaction to Jae Nichelle's "Friends with Benefits," a piece about her internal struggles with anxiety. Seeing a woman in their age range discussing a struggle many of my students know all too well really resonates with them.

The students have similar positive reactions to readings by Mahogany L. Browne, Porsha O, Ebony Stewart, and Jasmine Nicole Mans. None of what I'm saying means that we should stop covering Hughes and Brooks, Lucille Clifton and Sonia Sanchez, and so forth. However, we might have something to gain by additionally considering why students are drawn to a younger generation of black poets as well as dynamic presenters.

A notebook on the sound of black women poets

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