The Young and Disenchanted

“Wait, let me guess boo – you probably like poetry” – Spoken Word

Posted on: 4 May, 2009

As I’m an English major, I guess it can be taken for granted that I’m a fan of all things literary: plays, novels and – of course – poetry. A couple weeks ago I went to a spoken word performance by Jessica Care Moore which may have been the illest thing I’ve witnessed in a minute. Seriously, that chick is fire.

Anyways, I attended another poetry reading on my campus a few days later – this time, it was a guy reading. I have to give it to him: his poetry was pretty impressive. However, I was struck by the fact that every single one of his poems had him talking to a woman. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but some of his descriptions had me thinking, “Um, what’s extra hood?” For example, one poem compared his ideal woman’s nostrils to the Roman aqueducts, complete with bathing children frolicking in the streams of the snot life-bearing water which poured out from her. Yeah, anyway… I remember being told as a child by my English teacher that I lacked imagination. After I pulled a .45 on her I think what she meant to say was that I focused too much on “reality” rather than on the worlds that the mind could create. I won’t deny that I’m not much of a poetry-head – metaphors that encompass everything from the cosmos to termites and everything in between tend to be lost on me. I like the tangible, the rough around the edges, the things that I know and have experienced. I trust them more. That’s why I like Russian realist literature more than English metaphysical poetry. Escapism doesn’t appeal to me because there’s too much of the life right in front of me that I haven’t discovered yet for me to start wondering about what exists in another galaxy and whatnot.

Back to my point: this dude’s poetry – and the poetry of many other young black men – to me seems to build up a strangely unrealistic portrayal of the woman that they are speaking to or writing about. I love the fact that these men want to promote a positive image of the beautiful black goddess, especially as a woman who occasionally likes to fantasise that I could inspire a piece like “The Sun Rising.” Nonetheless, I feel scared as shit kind of intimidated by lines that invoke a woman whose back is an ageless baobab tree, whose curls are like the waves of the Sahara sands and whose eyes reflect the depths of the Nile. I mean, damn: I know I’m fly, but I’m not on that Maya Angelou/Nefertiti/Miriam Makeba tip yet. It’s funny because the dude actually read one poem that was an interesting departure from the rest. In it, he’s talking to a round-the-way girl with a weave in her hair, fake press-on nails and a quick-talking-bubble-gum-filled mouth. Not the most flattering description maybe, but that woman felt more real. I felt like I could identify with her more. I didn’t feel so egocentric imagining that the poem could be about me.

I brought up this topic with a guy and a chick that I know who both write, and they pointed out that they wrote their poetry with an unattainable ideal man/woman in mind. This totally makes sense – having some sort of Aphrodite/Apollo as inspiration – but this doesn’t mean that both men and women who write poetry or perform spoken word don’t use these epic descriptions to get more average-looking ass. And that irks me.

Look, I understand everyone needs a little head love. But that shouldn’t involve telling some Flava-Flav alike that you see your son’s smile in their smile. Because you don’t – what you really see is some crooked-ass teeth. AND you’re thinking about someone hotter, but because this person’s right in front of you, you’ll go for convenience over perfection. Obviously I’m exaggerating, but what I’m trying to say is that the dishonesty with which the poetic medium is used in the pursuit of hot sex on a platter kind of debases literature. This isn’t anything new – I’m pretty sure Shakespeare used his sonnets for seduction too. But the ways in which these spoken word artists spin lines to make these women (or men) feel special when it really isn’t about them… that’s just cold. I think that’s why I liked the poem about Shinequa (I’m not being facetious, that was the round-the-way girl’s name). It seemed to say “I see you and your flaws and your apparently ordinariness, and I love you for it, and I see past that Colour 4B Yaki to your unique beauty.” That to me means a lot more than being told about my aqueduct-esque nostrils and my thighs like the cosmos.

Maybe I’m missing the point of the poetry. I do like William Carlos Williams’ plainer style more than I do Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads. I’m not entirely sure what this says about my literary intellect, but I’m not too fussed about that. All I’m saying is: when it comes to love poetry, keep it real. Speak on it.

P.S. Dead Prez = amazing. Title is from “Mind Sex,” which is absolutely that bizness.


2 Responses to "“Wait, let me guess boo – you probably like poetry” – Spoken Word"

ah, spoken word. if you want real, just watch ALL of HBO Def Poetry. Classic stuff on there. most of it is on Youtube.

i’ll admit though, i’m the complete opposite of you: I love escapism. but i agree that imagining myself as the goddess who controls the beating of someone’s heart is a bit of a stretch. God knows I don’t see the cosmos in my thighs when i look in the mirror every morning. (LOL @ that, btw)


The weakness of the heart is holly…

Ah! You think that I never loved her

My Negress fair with palmoil, slender as a plume

Thighs of a starlet otter, of Kilimanjaro snow

Breasts of mellow rice-fields, hills of acacias under the

East Wind.

Noliwe with her arms of boas, lips of the adder

Noliwe, her eyes were constellations there is no

need of moon or drum

But her voice in my head and the feverous pulse of the


Ah! You think that I never loved her!

But these long years, this breaking on the wheel of the years, this carcan strangling every act

This long night without sleep I wandered like a

mare from the Zambezi, running and rushing at the


Gnawed by a nameless suffering, like the leopards in the


I would not have killed her if I had loved her less.

I had to escape from doubt

From the intoxication of the milk of her mouth, from

the throbbing drum of the night of my blood

From my bowels of fervent lava, from the uranium

mines of my heart in the depths of my Blackness

From love of Noliwe

From the love of my black skinned People.

Leopold Senghor

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