Sunday, May 21, 2023

More on African American Poetry during the 1980s

I was recently thinking about one of my entries, "What happened with African American poetry from 1977-1987?" from June 2012. Back then, I was wondering why we rarely hear about developments in poetry during that period in comparison to the Black Arts era of the 1960s and 1970s.  

I produced a list of volumes by black poets published during the 1980s. Some of the names: Amiri Baraka, Jayne Cortez, Rita Dove, Lucille Clifton, and Nikki Giovanni, among others, are familiar. But, we don't  hear that much about that time period in literary history. 

When I say that though, I'm likely comparing things to the standards of Black Arts. We have a really large body of scholarly works on that era as well as one the Harlem Renaissance.  Scholars just don't produce much on black poetry from the 1980s and various other decades during the 20th century. 

It's also true that scholars of African American literature have produced more extensive work on novels, autobiography, and nonfiction. But not so on poetry, especially poetry outside of Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts discourses. 

There was a decline in the number of anthologies published during the 1980s in comparison to the 1970s, where there was an explosion of collections. Those anthologies ensured that poems and poets reached a wider readership than individual volumes, which have limited reached. 

I haven't pulled all the pieces together yet, but I think the decline in anthologies and other modes of production associated with the arts were linked to issues connected to Reaganomics, which is to say several economic policies instituted by the administration of President Ronald Reagan. 

There was no big unifying idea with poetry and African American literature during the 1980s either, nothing like a "Black Arts Movement" or a "New Negro Movement." Without those kinds of things, it becomes less likely that folks will take notice and decide to produce extensive the era. That's not to say poets of that time period didn't succeed. Several of them did. We just don't have a strong paper trail.

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