The Young and Disenchanted

Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

I’m in the middle of writing a paper for my Jazz and American culture – the last of the 5 papers that have defined my finals period (no exams, hamd’llah). I was flicking through Morrison’s novel “Jazz” for a quote to use to describe some concept I’m trying to articulate (I won’t bore you with details) but this quote stood out for me. Ponder, and enjoy. I’ll be writing more on the other side of the Atlantic:

“Black women were armed; black women were dangerous and the less money they had the deadlier the weapon they chose. Who were the unarmed ones? Those who found protection in church and the judging, angry God whose wrath in their behalf was too terrible to bear contemplation… Who else were the unarmed ones? The ones who thought they did not need folded blades, packets of lye, shards of glass taped to their hands. Those who bought houses and hoarded money as protection and the means to purchase it. Those attached to armed men. Those who did not carry pistols because they were pistols; did not carry switchblades because they were switchblades cutting through gatherings, shooting down statutes and pointing out the blood and abused flesh. Those who swelled their little unarmed strength into the reckoning one of leagues, clubs, societies, sisterhoods designed to hold or withhold, move or stay put, make a way, solicit, comfort and ease. Bail out, dress the dead, pay the rent, find new rooms, start a school, storm an office, take up collections, rout the block and keep their eyes on all the children.”


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.

April 2019
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