NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 71

My original impulse for doing the article was simply that I love a lot of the black poetry I’ve been encountering and absorbing over the past decade or so. Tracy K. Smith, Kevin Young, Terrance Hayes, Major Jackson, A. Van Jordan, Natasha Trethewey, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Nikky Finney — I really just love their work… Maryemma Graham, one of the editors of the Oxford Guide To African American Literature in turn responded: it’s a shame that Jeff didn’t understand that he can’t base [an] article on “like” alone. That’s the first thing we tell our students. It’s not enough just to “like” something. Can we get a little deeper please? So, his response reminds us just how seriously black poetry, black writing in genera l is taken by some folks. Jeff should stick with the Food Critics section, since that’s what he is trained to do. This is the nature of contemporary journalism. Little depth, get the quotes you need in a hurry, and go for what’s popular at the moment. You don’t need content and you don’t need to get contrasting views!! After all, all black people must be on the same page, one scholar must speak for all, and “they” will be grateful for the sound bites. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE I had problems with some features of the Black Arts Movement, but Black Arts writers did more to expand an interest in poetry among average black Americans than those who assert that Black Arts was “short lived” or is on the decline. Last I heard, Kwanzaa, a product of the Black Arts Movement, is worth over 250 million dollars. What do these critics know that Macy’s doesn’t? Total all of the revenues from Black Arts conferences, transportation, housing, book sales, etc. over the decades and how many millions would you come up with? Gordinier also cites his list of poets as making a “breakthrough,” and their writing proof that black poetry has “evolved” and “taken wing” — where before it was floundering, presumably? A quick study indeed! I’ve been studying black literature since the 1960s and I’m still learning. For example, it was only within the last year that I came across the work of Albery Allson Whitman who was one of the popular writers of his day because he wrote poems that lionized the confederate general Stonewall Jackson. If, according to Gordinier, Natasha Trethewey’s (2012) Thrall is an example of a “breakthrough,” then I don’t get it. Though competent, her work is pretty traditional and conservative in comparison to works written by black poets of the past and the contemporary period. I wrote to him and suggested that he was in over his head. Gordinier answered: 69 Black male writers shouldn’t write about their experience? They shouldn’t write about ‘stop and frisk’; being hassled by cops; murdered by vigilantes; charged higher interest rates on mortgages; used for experimentation by prisons and universities? They shouldn’t write about being maneuvered into private prisons by the police who serve as this nefarious institution’s recruiters? The current situation is a lot like the post-Civil War period when blacks were arrested for phony “vagrancy” charges and handed over to white farmers as free labor. Hip Hoppers like Tupac Shakur were influenced by the Black Arts movement — which, like a literary loyalty oath, one has to renounce in order to get a Norton contract.