Blog featuring Willow Books Poetry authors and their works

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Poetical Conversation

August 20, 2009

Dear Melanie,

I want to start with a proper greeting since we are going to be diving into this project for a year. From here on out it will be Mel or Melanie, just know you are a dear friend. Mel, I have to be an honest. After having interviewed Ed Roberson, he got me to thinking about biases in relation to what we do in poetry. Ed says that lately he has come to realized people didn’t really read him—his work (poetry), which people were reading the statistics encoded in the poetry through Ed, who is as a black man, meaning readers were bringing sociological presumptions to his text. He didn’t think most of his readers knew how to read him as human. This got me wondering if it was possible for one to come to poetry as human. I mean, have we be completely entrenched in signs and signifiers?

Then too, I began to think about Ed’s poetry, how words claim a relationship with one another, each in its own separate way, the meaning triangulated, three possible meanings simultaneously breaking into three more possible meanings until meaning is meaningless. In this way he erases the erasure to get to meaning. In many ways, I am thinking about a poetics that operates from a certain place (blackness for me), and that has the ability to loosen the rhetorical chains through the investigation and interrogation of speech or performed speech. The problem is that I know many who will refute a black poetics or dare I say “aesthetics.” They would prefer to erase any black identification from the poem, mainly because someone propagating their school of thought perhaps said identity has no role in poetry. But I want to go back to what Ed Roberson said about not reading the poetry. Isn’t this the same thing? I mean, can one learn to read the work less the identity. Here I think is the problem.

But to get back to my point. There have been many schools of thoughts, and most of them generated by white men where we have Black Mountain, Objectivism, and New York School. Although, I would say that if we go by what Langston Hughes’ assertion that he didn’t know he was in the Harlem Renaissance until after it was over, then the same can be said for a few of these schools, maybe not objectivism. Can there be a black school of thought, a language that operates with characteristics of blackness, which as we know is limitless. I am not calling for a close end poetics, but one that realizes that erratic movement of black, the memory, the biracial, the economic positioning of black, and there are many others. I am saying that many of the writings that claim to be experimental operate and mirror the movement of black which is always already changing, moving and rearranging.

I am wresting with what makes this division so noticeable and is there any way around the “noticing”? I want to take you back to Langston Hugh’s essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” because that mountain is still here. I know poets who are blinded by the glitter and perceive fame of poetry so much that they wrestle with how much of themselves to inject into the poem. By this I mean their cultural experiences. I am all for a transnational poetics where we are all free to explore the things that makes us move in this world. But I can’t help but ask what does it mean when a poet will not publish in a black journal or have a black press publish their book? Does this motif not echo Hugh’s essay in some way? Then too, I am thinking about Reginald Shepard who talks about color insomuch as both are constructs, yet blackness is the marked construct while whiteness is the default.

I’m saying that I don’t see white poets trying to explore blackness. They will skip all over the rainbow, preferably wallow in Greece, Paris and Rome, but refuse to investigate blackness in a meaningful manner. Black poets want to write but few are interrogating the language that is necessary to build houses that can stand on their own. It seems we have given in and raised the white flag on some levels. But one a larger scale this is just one aspect because all poets do not yearn to step into the ivory tower and say “hey I am here, look at me know.” One of the failures of black poetry, and I say “black” poetry only because this is the result of what a dominant poetics can do, is that the rush to run toward the prize has killed the discourse. When a black person wins one of the few black book prizes there is a ripple of congratulations—a murmur, yet let one grab a white prize, oh boy, here come the clowns and the balloons, as in we did it, we crossed over.

There are a lot of factors that play into this too, jobs and fellowships and a means to support the self. So I do not say this without understanding and if I was given a big prize I suspect I would take too. In the big scheme of things, I am hopeful through this dialogue that we begin to start a foundation to how blackness functions in the poem and to let people understand that its’ okay to explore blackness even if you are not black. Blackness offers a great concept on how to keep images moving, metaphors fresh and a diagram on how to remain creative.

August 21, 2009

Dearest Randall,

It's great to have someone like yourself with whom I can mull over these issues in spirit of community and a true love for this all-consuming step in and out of identifiers (human, black, woman, man, mother, teacher, lovers of the word, gatekeepers) to know them all better.
Thinking about biases is critical if we are to serve our readers and more importantly, understand ourselves as all the things we are (and choose not to be). It seems we're coming to this concern through slightly different, through Roberson, and me, through Harryette Mullen. It seems Mullen is fully aware of biases or the human habit to box, to label, to associate (however true or untrue). She exposes these biases in both the reader as human and reader as part of a society by using language in a way that embraces the language which "identifies" or "is associated" with a given people, or type, or gender to show the inherent and seemingly unavoidable biases/perceptions we have just because we are a part of a society which labels. It's all kind of tricky at times because with Mullen's approach, we are the target of a language that both identifies and disassociates, or includes and excludes. So, in order to get to the pure humanity of writing, it is ideal we acknowledge all the debris floating around "the black aesthetic" either perpetrating as a true identifier or a true identifier being fogged out by nonsense. Again, the identifier, black, comes up and probably does not have the ability to leave our discussions just yet because we're still floating in the cloudy, dark debris, exploring the debris for shards and brick. Sifting for black...

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