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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution II

Chapman, Abraham
Editorial comment: black poetry today,   pp. 401-[410] PDF (9.1 MB)

Page 407

poet must stretch his consciousness not only in
the direction of other non-western people
across the earth, but in terms of pure reason
and expand the mind areas to the far reaches
of creativity's endlessness to find new ways
of seeing the world the black poet of the
west is caught up in. . . . We are in a position
to know at first hand the social and
political machinery that is threatening to
destroy the earth and we can use creative
and intellectual black criteria on it.
I believe the artist does owe something to the
society in which he is involved; he should
be involved fully. This is the measure of the
poet, and the black poet in his - from a
white point of view - invisibility must hammer
away at his own world of creative criticism
of this society. A work of art, a poem,
can be a complete 'thing'; it can be alone, not
preaching, not trying to change men, and
though it might change them, if the men
are ready for it, the poem is not reduced in
it's artistic status. I mean we black poets can)
write poems of pure creative black energy
right here in the white west and make them
works of art without falling into the cheap
market place of bullshit and propaganda.
But it is a thin line to stand on.
The best of the black poets are expressing
themselves, the black experience, their
visions of life, and their creative criticism
of American society, in new poetry. The
mediocre, and always and everywhere they
outnumber the best, are not getting beyond
propaganda, bombast, invective, and calls
for revolutionary action.
The "vehement/hatred" of white America
proclaimed by Don Lee in his poem is
rather characteristic of the tone, mood
and feelings of the militant black nationalist
movements of today. The question of tone
is discussed by Stokely Carmichael and
Charles V. Hamilton in their recent book
Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in
America. They say:
There has been only a 'civil rights' movement,
whose tone of voice was adopted to an
audience of middle class whites. It served
as a sort of buffer zone between that audience
and angry young blacks. It claimed to
speak for the needs of a community, but it
did not speak in the tone of that community.
.. . .We had only the old language of love
and suffering. And in most places - that is,
from the liberals and middle class - we got
back the old language of patience and
progress. . . . For the masses of black
people, this language resulted in virtually
nothing. . . . The white society devised the
language, adopted the rules and had the black
community narcotized into believing that
that language and those rules were, in
fact, relevant.
LeRoi Jones, the best known and most
controversial of the black poets, has
attuned his literary voice to the tone of
hatred, in addition to anger and defiance,
and has incorporated the language of
hatred and the organization of hatred into
his program for the black artist. In his
essay "state/meant" which concludes his
book Home: Social Essays (1966), LeRoi
Jones declares:
The Black Artist's role in America is to aid
in the destruction of America as he knows it.
His role is to report and reflect so precisely
the nature of the society, and of himself in that
society, that other men will be moved by the
exactness of his rendering and, if they are
black men, grow strong through this moving,
having seen their own strength, and weakness;
and if they are white men, tremble, curse,
and go mad, because they will be drenched
with the filth of their evil . . . The Black Artist
must teach the White Eyes their deaths,
and teach the black man how to bring these
deaths about.
The long-standing controversy among Negro
poets and critics over the designations
Negro poetry or poems by Negroes has
not ended. Some would retain Negro poetry,
the militant nationalists and many young
poets would substitute black poetry, and
others still adhere to the position initially
enunciated by Countee Cullen. Among the
latter is Robert Hayden, poet and Professor
of English at Fisk University, awarded The
Grand Prize for Poetry at the First World
Festival of Negro Arts, held in Dakar,
Senegal, in 1965, and editor of the latest
hard-cover anthology of Negro poetry. He
titled it Kaleidoscope: Poems by American
Negro Poets and in his introduction he
keeps alive the question of "whether we
can speak with any real justification of
'Negro poetry' " which some object to
"because it has been used disparagingly to
indicate a kind of pseudo-poetry concerned
with the race problem to the exclusion
of almost everything else." Hayden, who

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