Poetry in First World: An April Meditation
After Johnson Publications abruptly discontinued Black World in 1976, Hoyt W. Fuller and others founded First World Foundation in Atlanta and began to publish First World: An International Journal of Black Thought. In The Black Arts Movement (2005), James Smethurst does not associate the demise of Black World and the birth of First World with Watergate (1974), but future studies of African American poetry will have to account for how the covert activities of Richard Nixon’s administration intensified divisions and decline within the evolving of Black cultural nationalism.
Post-Civil Rights assumptions about the aesthetic function of poetry beg to be explained within the total context of dwindling American faith in the credibility of democracy. The “formal turn” in black poetry after 1974, even if it is considered as a pure act of language (a specialized speech act), must be associated with a paradoxical resuscitation of faith in American exceptionalism. I want to sell signifying tickets with the claim that young black poets born after 1965 consciously and unconsciously were determined in the late 1980s and early 1990s to prove they were more quintessentially “American” in craft than other poets in the United States, much in the fashion Ralph Ellison “proved” he was more American than Saul Bellow.
First World’s premier issue appeared January/February 1977. It is noteworthy that Fuller echoed Carter G. Woodson in the editor’s page, that his words could have been written in January 2013:
All too often we settle for personal “success” and “making it” as rationalization for our failure to control the system head-on and to demand that it change to accommodate all the people it demeans and exploits. And so, generation after generation, we willfully perpetuate a cycle of hope and despair (3). [My italics]
Based on his prescience as the long-term editor of Negro Digest/Black World, Fuller knew that magazines can raise consciousness but they do not destroy perpetual cycles, because “the lords of America…have wisely learned to adjust their procedures without disturbing the fundamental structures and thrusts of their empires, and the calculated cooptation of selected Blacks is a minor adjustment” (3).
Undaunted by his own pessimism, Fuller launched First World in the hope that black writing might “give tangible support to the universal idea of respect and self-determination for all people and all nations’ (3). First World died with Fuller on May 11, 1981. This ending of one wave of modern black cultural nationalism in poetry is the beginning of questions about what new missions African American poetry assumed. We can no longer speak with certainty about the mission of black poetry as Eugene Redmond could in Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry: A Critical History (1976).
Perhaps we can no longer speak of mission, because the idols of post-race enthrall many commodified poets to worship their egos. They ignore or reject the premises of T. S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent’ (1919) as well as the implications of Blues People (1963) by LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka.
To initiate wonderment about where we went from the final issue of First World (Vol. 2, No. 4, 1980) to the current Holy Communion of prizes , I have listed the poets and poems Fuller published between 1977 and 1980. It is important to notice from the listing which poets have been tossed into forgetting and which ones still resonate in memory.
Vol. 1, No. 1 (January /February 1977)
Ahmos Zu-Bolton, “Struggle-Road Dance” (9)
Carolyn Rodgers, “a lament on August 15, 1968/the anniversary of a time ignorant longing” (36)
Everett Hoagland, “Jamming” (52)
Samuel Allen, “Harriet Tubman” (57)
Zack Gilbert, “You Know Who You Are” (62)
Vol. 1, No. 2 (March/ April 1977)
June Jordan, “I Must Become a Menace To My Enemies” (10)
Peter Clarke, “The Showpiece” (10)
L. B. J. Machabane, “The Jackal and the Fox” (15)
Isaac J. Black, “Taking Precautions In The Air” (55)
Alvin Aubert, “Getting At The Beatles/ Installment I” (63)
**If anyone discovers Vol. 1, No. 3, please post the information.
Vol. 1, No. 4 (Winter 1977)
Kiarri T.-H. Cheatwood, “Of Love and Land” (44)
Naomi Long Madgett, “Nomen” and “Exits and Entrances” (58)
Sonia Sanchez, Five haiku (For Gwen Brooks), (58)
Etheridge Knight, “On Seeing the Black Male as #1 Sex Object in America” (59)
Jerry Ward, “New Orleans/ French Quarter Black Mammies” (59)
Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring 1978)
Mari Evans, “On the Death of Boochie by Starvation” and “Street Lady” (11)
Yusef Komungakaa (sic), “A Short History of Building Fences” (13)
Frank Lamont Phillips,”Chile Lamont” (21)
Melba Joyce Boyd,”Detroit Renaissance Sin” (39)
Gladys Thomas, “Stephen Biko –September 1977” (55)
Vol. 2, No. 2 (1979)
Julia Fields, “Mr. Tut’s House: A Recollection” (38-39)
Vol. 2, No. 3 (1979)
Gayl Jones, “Xarque” (13)
David Crooms, “In Memoriam” (13)
Vol. 2, No. 4 (1980)
Dudley Randall, “Mini-Skirt” (10)
Gayl Jones, “The Fur Station” (23)
Jerry Ward, “Volcano” (43)
Everett Hoagland, African Suite [“Nia,” “Umoja: 1978,” “Good Bloods and Bad Water,” “Blue Milk and Black Diamonds,” “Open Will,” “Gorée,” “Dust,” “The Seven Days”] (56-59,62)
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
March 27, 2013