Poetry Read vs Time Spent on it

Almost everyone has been exposed to poetry in some form or another. Some throughout middle and high school, some continuing in college for pleasure, others yet pursue it rigorously in a  discipline. I think I fall somewhere in the middle, as I have taken courses with Dr. Doggett that include hefty amounts of poetry gone over in extreme detail, yet I don’t consider myself a scholar of poetry quite yet. In reflecting on the poems that we have been given thus far in Dr. McCoy’s class, I find myself not really understanding much if anything about the poetry (further than syntactical content and plot) that we have read, except perhaps #AllyFail by J Mase III as that poem has a strong relation between the content and form that (at least on the surface) gets a pretty clear point across about checking our privilege if anyone is to consider themselves an ally.

I suppose I feel as though I don’t understand the various conversations going on within the poetry that we read in class. I know there could be a whole major devoted to African American Poetry, but I know I’m yearning for a little more when it comes to the time we spend on poetry in this class. In an effort to satisfy that yearning, I’ll attempt to dive deeper into one of the Black Nature poems, namely Kwame Alexander’s “Life”.

As with most things I read, I initially attempt to understand the content through the syntax of the language–poetry or prose. In “Life”, the content is relatively straightforward: the issue of the house being eaten by termites is presented, but this is contrasted with the assurance from friends that the “good / liberal ones / were not involved”.  Upon looking at this poem further, it appears rational to view this as a metaphor, leading me to believe that the poet is commenting on the fact that issues are real and damaging even though it may be only a subset of the population committing the atrocity. At this point, I am interested to see what is going on with the author himself in order to perhaps shed light on the issues he is discussing in particular. In this Washington Post article, I don’t necessarily find what content he is interested in, but I see that his goal as a poet is to fill a gap he sees in poetry–much like I see myself. Kwame says, “You can’t go from Shel Silverstein to Shakespeare,” he said. “There has to be something in the middle. I think it’s my job to do that.” This lends me to believe that he writes poetry that comments on similar issues that Shakespeare or other “classics” may discuss, but through language that is more accessible to get readers interested in the content and discipline of poetry. These are the kinds of realizations that are only possible when due time is spent with a poet and their poetry. It is difficult to grasp the aim of a poet through one work of theirs in an anthology. This level of digging is where I truly enjoy poetry rather than the hit and run approach we use in class.

That said, I do understand why we don’t always research or dive into a whole poetry cycle by just one poet. This is a survey class, and we certainly are surveying a lot of content in a short amount of time. However, I guess I would like more discussion on some of the poems in class rather than just being encouraged to dig deeper outside of class. I understand most conventions in poetry because of my college course experience, so I think I have a bit of a leg up when it comes to understanding the finer points. That said, I still don’t quite have a grasp on what African American poets have to offer the field of poetry that is unique from other poets. I understand that their lived experience offers a different lens with which to view the world, but what exactly is that lens? Perhaps I need to spend more time with the poetry we’ve been given as well as Angles of Ascent, by Charles Henry Rowell, in order to better understand the history and purpose behind African American poetry–more specifically African American poetry written for African Americans, not plantation vernacular that is for the enjoyment and appropriation of white readers historically speaking.

Poetry has a lot to offer in terms of what can be done artfully with the English language. Entire class periods could be (and have been in my past) spent on one single poem from only one author who has one lived experience. While that may not be reasonable in a class responsible for covering more than just poetry, I still am searching for more clarity in the purpose behind being given these specific selections of poetry in class.

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