Black Poetry like ‘Bum Rush the Page’ Informed My Youth

I have been doing a lot of reading and writing in isolation. I’ve been so involved with other things, that I needed to be protective of my space; safely placing it within an incubator to think, read and write. What brought me here today, however, to share something with you was the recent celebration of Black Poetry Day on Tuesday, October 17. Much of my youth is shaped by poetry. I was growing into myself, trying to find the best way to effectively communicate. I struggled as a teenager when trying to write in essay form. Now, I can only assume that block was because of the obligation to write research papers for school. I wasn’t inspired to write about elephants or to dissect classical stories written in a language that was foreign to me. I, honestly, never cared about the poetry of Shakespeare. Instead, I swallowed Bum Rush the Page, Nikki Giovanni and Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway.

“We need a god who bleeds now/whose wounds are not the end of anything…” How beautiful it is to check god, to tell the supposed higher being that they need to stop being petty and feel something.

The work within these books informed me of the world in which I stood in. It was my introduction to the politics of my society; I was being taught by creatives who have been there and done that. Sonia Sanchez, for example, wrote the introduction for Bum Rush the Page, saying that “because we have not understood our history, we have allowed ourselves to be bought and killed out of history.” She, like many of the writers featured in the collection, is bilingual in rhyme and maintained the ability to educate with a bounce. Sanchez wrote that “they saw us look at the word, splice it, look up at the word and jazz it up, look backwards at the word and decide to disconnect and reconnect it at the end, stretch it, moan it, groan it, peel it, and then finally, redress the world and say, ‘See, this is a poem.'”

In the classroom, that kind of writing was wrong.

I remember being inspired by the freedom they had and hopeful because they had been able to make a career out of such a “wrong” writing style. On my free time, when I wasn’t taking pictures for the school yearbook or interviewing my peers for stories, I was reciting and writing poetry.

Today, poetry isn’t as crucial to my development. I am mostly attracted to complex literature, the ones that are heavy on language and those that build on tough sentences. Like, for example, Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone by James Baldwin, Swing Time by Zadie Smith and The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara. When I’m reading nonfiction, it is rough like The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin or The Future of the Mind by Dr. Michio Kaku. Every so often, though, I would find my way back to the poets of the world; wanting to be in a space that expressed a big punch with little words. In those discoveries, I grew with Saul Williams in She and The Dead Emcee Scrolls; and Wild Beauty by Ntozake Shange. Shange wrote that “we need a god who bleeds now/whose wounds are not the end of anything.” Those words shook me hard, causing a vibration in my bones.

Poetry, however, is not all the same. The type that I am attracted to is commonly known as spoken word; it is grounded in hip-hop and very political (because when a colored person is aware, proud and loud about it, they are defying the oppressor). The word play is often creative and cunning, hitting below the belt and simultaneously humorous. “We need a god who bleeds now/whose wounds are not the end of anything…” How beautiful it is to check god, to tell the supposed higher being that they need to stop being petty and feel something.

 

 

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