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Amiri Baraka and Jerry W. Ward, Jr. -- September 2004

My book on African American writers and creativity focuses on vulnerable black boys and bad men. I started thinking in serious ways about representations of vulnerable black boys in literary art over twenty years ago when I first encountered Jerry W. Ward Jr.'s "Don't Be Fourteen (in Mississippi)."     

In honor of Ward on his 77th birthday today, I decided to curate a list of 77 poems focusing on vulnerable black boys, bad men, and black men in general. 
black boys and childhood reflections 
• "Don't Be Fourteen (in Mississippi)" by Jerry W. Ward Jr.
• "The Whipping" by Robert Hayden
• "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks
• "Letters to Joe Frazier from Mike Tyson" by Derrick Harriell
• "电脑怎么挂梯子上外网" by Reginald Harris
• "电脑怎么挂梯子上外网" by Langston Hughes
• "电脑怎么挂梯子上外网" by Langston Hughes
• "leadbelly’s lessons" by Tyehimba Jess 

black fathers 
• "电脑挂梯子加速软件" by Robert Hayden
• "Bereavement" By Kevin Young  

Black men and music 
• "Jazz to Jackson to John" by Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
• "Digging Max" by Amiri Baraka
• "1912: blind lemon jefferson explaining to leadbelly" by Tyehimba Jess
• "lomax v. leadbelly in new york: letters to home, 1934" by Tyehimba Jess
• “Don’t Cry, Scream” By Haki Madhubuti
• "Milestones" by Eugene B. Redmond
• "Juju” By Askia Toure
• “Ode to John Coltrane” By Quincy Troupe
• "The Armageddon of Funk" by Michael Warr

sgreen 手机版怎么用



In my book Bad Men, I introduce this term "concentrated cultural catalog," which refers to writers presenting and referencing a large number of historical figures, concepts, and sites in a single composition. These cultural catalogs are concentrated based on how much is covered or presented in one place. 

Amiri Baraka was a wonderful cultural cataloger. His poems "Jungle Jim Flunks His Screen Test" and "Digging Max" make references to dozens of people. Black Thought's 电脑怎么挂梯子教程 is an amazing feat of cataloging with an abundant array of people, historical events, and artifacts listed in the course of a single performance. Consider too Robin Coste Lewis's "Voyage of the Sable Venus" as a concentrate cultural catalog with her citing a profusion of art objects from 38,000 BCE to the present. In his novel The Sellout, Paul Beatty incredibly mentions hundreds of people, places, things.  

  It's good to see the work of  vigorous cultural catalogers. They give you a sense of all these elements, items, or people that comprise a creative domain. You check out their catalogs, and you get a sense of how immersed they are in a particular realm, or you witness them making connections across multiple areas of thought. 

• A notebook on Bad Men: Creative Touchstones of Black Writers

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C. Liegh McInnis on imagery in black poetry

Lift Every Voice and Sing by Augusta Savage

“Form, especially the mastery of imagery, is important to me,” writes C. Liegh McInnis in 电脑挂梯子加速软件 he wrote about reading twenty-five volumes of poetry by African American poets in twenty-five days. His focus on imagery elevated its importance for me. 

"Of course, I do not mind the extended use of vocabulary, but these poets are using the terms as if having a large vocabulary is equated with or deemed as impactful/powerful as mastery of imagery," he writes at one point. "Yes, creative writing is about vocabulary, but, at its core, is it not about painting with words? Moreover, is it not about painting with words to create a vivid and specific or concrete understanding of an idea or concept?" (2). 

At one point, he lists off the 20-plus volumes of poetry that he read and provides brief comments or notations on the pieces. He notes that several of the poets show "Excellent use of imagery,” or their poems reveal “Excellent imagery." There are moments when he is turned off by obscure/vague in some volumes, but he expresses being moved in positive ways because of the imagery. McInnis is most interested in poems that achieve "the right balance of well-crafted imagery while being intellectually challenging without being obscure/vague" (13). 

I've been taking a break, but when I work my way back to reading poetry on a regular again, I plan to think and write more seriously about imagery than I have in the past. I'm interested in exploring some of the issues that McInnis has highlighted for me in his article. I'm curious about how folks are constructing and references vivid scenes in their works. 

And why stop with just verse? Fiction writers are dealing with imagery and so are prose writers. So it might make sense to consider a little more attentively to what some of the folks are doing. 


Here's more in my series on his article
• Returning to C. Liegh McInnis's critical work on poetry 
• C. Liegh McInnis on obscure/vague language, references in poetry



• C. Liegh McInnis

C. Liegh McInnis on obscure/vague language, references in poetry

I recently returned to C. Liegh McInnis's article, "Thoughts after Reading Twenty-Five Collections of Black Poetry in Twenty-Five Days." 

In addition to offering praise for the many works he covers and highlighting his interest in imagery, he presents various critiques. As I was previously noting, it's somewhat rare to witness a black writer offer public extended critiques of black poetry for a variety of reasons (fears that such critiques could be taken the wrong way, possibility of professional retribution, the code of silence within black communities, which Amiri Baraka once referred to as "colored patriotism").
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"Maybe that’s my problem—that I keep expecting poets to be precise in their meaning through a crafting of images that makes one understand their idea on a tangible level. I do not mind the emotive, but, often, the notion of the ethereal or even magical nature of poetry just seems like a copout for someone who cannot or is too afraid to make a specific statement, which is ironic since so many of them are so hell-bent on peppering their poetry with precise, scientific terms that rarely yield a preciseness in meaning" (2).

"As someone who loves determining/searching/researching the meaning to a word puzzle, I do not mind the search. I am just growing tired of there being nothing tangible/precise at the end of the search" (4).

" would be better severing of poetry and humanity if more editors and critics simply admit that the vast majority of poetry that they reject or omit is because of socio-political sensibilities than for craftsmanship" (6).

"My head loves the manipulation of form, but it has always been the works that impact or embed themselves in my gut that I remember. A bunch of beautiful/vivid, well-crafted images that combine to mean nothing precise do not impact me, do not remain in my gut.." (7). 

"It is like watching a movie with great parts but no cohesive narrative. Clearly, that is fine for most, but I am often left intellectually and emotively unfulfilled. There are lots of enjoyable metaphoric moments, but, again, I would like those moments to 'payoff' in a more precise way" (34). 
One of the extended critiques that he offers concerns works that he views as too "obscure/vague." I was most drawn to that point, or series of points, because it emerges so often among the students and various other readers that I have worked with over the last decade. Like, McInnis, many folks enjoy and even crave puzzles, but they are a little let down when the payoffs don't seem worthwhile. But they grow impatient with some obscure or even incomprehensible references. 

I've talked to a few black poets about reader concerns along these lines. The poets responded that readers "need to do the work." That is, the readers should take more effort to understand the coded references and ideas being explored. So there's an impasse. 

I think there are many reasons why obscurity emerges seemingly often in contemporary poetry, by which I mean right here, volumes of poetry published since 2000 . It's a relatively small field and thus a small number of gatekeepers who can dictate the norms and expectations. Further, for better and worse, there is no strong imperative to appeal to really large audiences. Accordingly, I suspect what some poets may view as perfectly clear could come off as obscure to many readers. And those  folks 电脑怎么挂梯子教程some realms of poetry cherish ideas, language, and references that mean little to those who reside in other domains.              

Whatever the case, McInnis's article gave me reasons to return to the issue of obscurity in poetry and consider why and how it emerges and sometimes frustrates readers. 

Here's more in my series on his article
电脑怎么挂梯子上外网Returning to C. Liegh McInnis's critical work on poetry
• C. Liegh McInnis on imagery in black poetry

• C. Liegh McInnis


A few of the many poetry books C. Liegh read in 2018

I recently returned to this piece, "Thoughts after Reading Twenty-Five Collections of Black Poetry in Twenty-Five Days" by C. Liegh McInnis. It's nearly fifty pages, and he offers thoughts and reflections on over two dozen volumes of poetry published since 2000.

McInnis published the piece on his site on December 21, 2018. I read it back then when he published it, but I somehow neglected to comment on it here until now. Lately, I've been thinking and frustrated about the idea that we do not adequately acknowledge critical work on black literary art, especially poetry. But beyond that frustration, I'm intrigued when a writer takes a big overview of a field. McInnis does that here.

In the article, he provides notes and conclusions concerning his experience reading twenty-five volumes of poetry by African American writers. All but one of the books was published in 2018. He mentions the poetry of Aaron Coleman, Tracy K. Smith, Yolanda J. Franklin, Alice Walker, Cyrus Cassells, Kevin Young, Allison Joseph, Tiana Clark, and several others. It's rare to see a single stand-alone essay covering so many different contemporary black poets. I'd go further and say that there are not many books that cover so many contemporary (twenty-first century) African American poets.

It's also uncommon to see the kinds of critiques McInnis offered in the article. Now, I want to be clear that McInnis presents abundant praise for the poets and poetry he covers. But he also includes things that he dislikes. It's somewhat unusual to see a black poet publicly expressing what he finds displeasing about black poetry, as there is something of an unwritten rule these days that one is not supposed to review/assess poetry negatively.

I know, you can likely find negative appraisals of African American poetry, but what I'm saying is that it is not common to come across a black poet publicly putting out those critiques. Over the years, several poets have directly told me that it can cause trouble in your professional career if you criticize poets or even offer negative appraisals publicly. The world of contemporary African American poetry is relatively small, so you can draw retribution from the friends of poets you might offend. McInnis stands at a distance from some of those professional circles, so he feels free to speak his mind on things where many others would feel constrained. 

(You might also recall that in 2013, Amiri Baraka offered an outstanding critique of a prominent black editor and some leading black poets. It was a critique that few others would have dared make). 

Back in 2009, I followed a wide-ranging discussion about whether it was worth it to write negative reviews of poetry, which was covered 电脑怎么挂梯子上外网, here, and here, to name a few instances, and carried over into 2010 here and here among other places. I did not notice any African Americans participating in the discussion on the topic. At the time, I had a few off-the-record conversations with white poetry reviewers and scholars who informed me that they avoided ever speaking critically of African American poetry in public, as it could damage the already fragile relationships between black and white people in contemporary poetry. 

It's my sense that far more than offering negative reviews of volumes of poetry by black writers, most people simply ignore the books. I think people like and even love the idea of poetry. But volumes of poetry? Not as much. Some of that contributed to my interest in McInnis's article. 

Hey, and there's more. McInnis was having some email exchanges with Maryemma Graham, Jerry W. Ward, Jr., and me as he was preparing the article, and he includes brief excerpts from some of our email messages as we addressed topics with him. Not surprisingly, I am more critical of aspects of the field of poetry in those email exchanges than I am in my typical blog entries. That's not a surprise, because like most folks, I suppose I'm freer in private than in public writing. Reading McInnis's article gave me a chance to consider my different approaches and opinions on things in varied contexts.

But really, McInnis is the star in this article. I realized when re-reading his article that I don't get to hear enough people offer extended comments on what they've been thinking as they engaged a body of black art. We usually hear one-at-a-time treatments (i.e. a book review). Here, though, we get some extended thoughts. 

Here's more in my series on his article
• C. Liegh McInnis on imagery in black poetry
• C. Liegh McInnis on obscure/vague language, references in poetry

• C. Liegh McInnis

sgreen 手机版怎么用

Expressing workplace grievances through poetry


Last week, someone posted a poem, sometimes entitled "Too Black" or "To be Black in Corporate America" on the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA) listserv at my university. The poem had been previously read at an online gathering where employees voiced their concerns about being black at the university.

Here are some of the lines from the poem:
They take my kindness for weakness
They take my silence for speechless
They consider my uniqueness strange
They call my language slang
They see my confidence as conceit
They see my mistakes as defeat
And then later,
I'm defiant if I separate
I'm fake if I assimilate
My character is constantly under attack
Pride for my race makes me "TOO BLACK"
The author of the piece is apparently C'Moore Productions (Cynthia Moore), though the piece, which has circulated online since 2000, is sometimes attributed to "unknown author." 

After the poem was posted on our BFSA listserv, people, especially staff members, followed up with affirmations, attesting that the poem reflected their feelings as well.

As someone who studies black poetry, I was interested in how and why the poem resonated with folks. A few folks noted that the poem expressed many of their thoughts and feelings in a succinct and stylistic way. The poem also catalog some of their present real-world, workplace grievances.   

It also occurred to me that the poem was quite different than many of the poems I encounter in award-winning volumes, for instance. The poem highlights workplace racial problems, and it presents the ideas in rhymes. Well-known print-based poets tend to work at universities as faculty, not staff. They rarely write rhymes in their poems, and for the most part, workplace racial problems are not central to their poems. Further, you do not see the use of "they" (to mean white coworkers and managers) as it was used in the poem. 

But overall, the idea of racial grievances do come up in a range of notable poems published across the twentieth century. Hey, but maybe something changed. Or, it's likely that poems like "Too Black" are still being written, and just circulating in seemingly unlikely places like a black faculty and staff listserv. 

Reading Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Evie Shockley during a global pandemic

By Laura Vrana

Though I balked at having to shift a course of this type online, it turned out to be a blessing that I was teaching a Master’s-level introduction to literary criticism/theory this spring. The course sought to deconstruct canonical literary theory by pairing key white Western thinkers to whom students needed to be exposed with a range of voices, especially black feminist ideas. As a result, we had already set up an environment predicated on two values: (1) that the link between intellectual work and “real life” is vital to incorporate into academia; and (2) that so-called diverse voices have much to teach about how the sociocultural formations of the present academy have evolved. Expanding that lens to grapple with how sociocultural formations of American life have evolved to get us to an “unprecedented” moment worked well.

So the course shifted not just in form, but in content and context of discussions. I still felt obligated to expose students, for their future careers, to Foucault and Derrida and Barthes. But we leaned ever more both into discussing the overt ways such theorists could (or could not) offer resources for the present crisis intellectually and personally, and into pairing those thinkers with a wider range of non-white peers, especially women of color.

We discussed theorizing in terms of destabilizing claims that this crisis constitutes unprecedented rupture. We talked about Native thinkers who have a direct connection to the experience of viral pandemic wiping out populations. We addressed black feminist theorists like Saidiya Hartman and Christina Sharpe grappling with slavery as continual, ongoing. We talked about Afrofuturist authors. All these frames richly helped us (as a group of white women—also key matter of discussion) discuss ethical modes of response to the world and even the academy, given Barbara Christian’s evergreen query: “For whom are we doing what we are doing when we do literary criticism?” (77).

The ever-escalating toll of the pandemic has left me with no answers about how to incorporate these concerns going forward, with students of all sorts. I have been thinking about a couple texts in newly pressing ways that I am still weighing teaching. I’d like to highlight here just a couple such works, especially black queer “troublemaker” feminist theorist and poet Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s triptych Spill: Scenes of Black Feminist Fugitivity (2016), M Archive: After the End of the World (2018), and Dub: Finding Ceremony (2023). The second feels especially apropos to our moment. Its stunning poetics riff on the tradition of black women adapting to the unsurvivable. The text illustrates, as Nikki Giovanni puts it cheekily in “Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea (We’re Going to Mars),” that enormous adaptations mandate that our nation “needs to call Black America” for guidance.

So I was delighted to encounter in my inbox this week through the free email list Poem-A-Day feature of The Academy of American Poets (featuring only black writers through summer’s end) a new poem by Evie Shockley, “sonnet for the long second act.” In the accompanying statement, she describes the poem as a piece that “attempts to leap from the encounter with” M Archive to a course Shockley taught this spring, while “carrying with it my distillation of the balm I found there.” I too have found balm in Shockley’s new poem this week and in Gumbs’s work over the past few. Whether we are seeking solace or guidance for ethical responses to the world, I urge you (now as always): read and #CiteBlackWomen, especially these two.

In particular, Shockley’s “sonnet” and Gumbs’s “For Phillis” (电脑网页怎么挂梯子) seem to echo one another in their evocation of Phillis Wheatley as poetic foremother, with Shockley’s opening line “your body is still a miracle” paralleling June Jordan’s deeming her “Phillis Miracle Wheatley.” Gumbs’s haunting descriptions of Wheatley open: “what she needed was the heat. not the cute little desk in the portrait. not the windowed room looking out on Cambridge, not the white mother mistress to believe in her. what she needed was the heat, and without it she died” (122). But despite this, Gumbs goes on, Wheatley’s “every breath was made for prayer. and she was here. so this was what it looked like” (122). These pages’ stunning counter-portrait of Wheatley, alongside Shockley’s image of “veins mining the mud for poetry’s o” to get one to a place of “bathe breathe believe through drought you survive / like the passage schooled you till rains arrive,” will not leave my brain this week. I hope they can offer others (and perhaps my future students) something as well, however currently undefinable.

Christian, Barbara. “The Race for Theory.” Feminist Studies 14.1 (Spring 1988): 67–79.
Giovanni, Nikki. Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and Not Quite Poems. New York: William Morrow, 2010.
Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. M Archive: After the End of the World. Durham: Duke UP, 2018.
Shockley, Evie. “sonnet for the long second act.” Poem-A-Day. The Academy of American Poets. 16 July 2023

• A notebook of entries by Laura Vrana

sgreen 手机版怎么用


Aquarius Press/Willow Books has just reissued James E. Cherry's collection of short fiction, Still A Man and Other Stories.

From 电脑怎么挂梯子教程:
In fluid prose, the stories in this remarkably mature collection chronicle an African American experience in the New South that is both rich and complex. Oftentimes, James Cherry's characters deal with the tragic and crippling—still there is humanity in the way he navigates each story plot without agenda or apology. Imbued with the complexities of the vernacular tradition, STILL A MAN is a beautiful exposition on what it means to be Black, Southern and Human. It is fearlessly honest while depicting economic class, violence and love in all their myriad forms.
Praise for the stories:
“This is art the way it’s supposed to be. These stories are leavened with a wisdom that makes literature the power that it is and its characters will haunt both the culture and your imagination. Cherry is a master of the word, providing light in darkness, dropping knowledge and taking no prisoners.“ --Arthur Flowers
James E Cherry is the author of three volumes of poetry and two novels, including Edge of the Wind. He earned an MFA in creative writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. He was a nominee for an NAACP Image Award, a Lillian Smith Book Award, and a Next Generation Indie Book Award.

• Short story collections by black writers, 2000 - 2023
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