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Monday, December 1, 2014

Poetry Research

AARN Message
November 30, 2014

A Note on Howard Rambsy’s Poetry Research

Research on African American literature and the study of African American culture(s) are contiguous.  Nevertheless, rigorous scholarship requires that we separate cultural research questions from those we ask in our formal analyses and interpretation of works of literature.  It is appropriate to integrate cultural and literary findings in our articles and books, but we ought to be conscious of subtle differences in asking What are the topics or themes a poet addresses in creating a poem? and asking What are the uses or purposes of a completed poem?  We should be discriminating in dealing with form, content, and contexts. 

Such discrimination is illustrated by Howard Rambsy’s documentation of a recent activity involving African American poetry and “social networking.” His work is a model of conducting African American cultural research. Following many ideas proposed in Antony Easthope’s Literary Into Cultural Studies (London: Routledge, 1991), Rambsy begins to explore this research question:
How have some African American poets “spoken out” regarding a tragic event in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014 and the spectacular aftermath of that event?

In his email of November 30, 2014, Rambsy wrote

A couple of days ago, a group of poets organized a show of solidarity with these recent movements against police brutality. The poets decided to present poems on YouTube and Facebook and open with a common statement "I am a black poet who will not remain silent while this nation murders black people. I have a right to be angry." They used the hashtag #BlackPoetsSpeakOut.

Applying some basic bibliographic approaches to the project, I decided to do a roundup of all the contributions. You can check it out here. You're probably familiar with a few of the poets, including Treasure Redmond, Jericho Brown, and Reginald Harris. But many more might be unfamiliar to you. Most of the 100 poets I've listed are somewhat "new" in their careers. 
Here's the list:  
A roundup of #BlackPoetsSpeakOut Selections  

I offered some commentary here:  
A few notes on #BlackPoetsSpeakOut  

It's good to see groups of poets organizing like this. 

Rambsy is exploring a meaningful contemporary phenomenon in the social and political uses of black poetry. The embedded links give us access to his academic website “Cultural Front: A Notebook on literary art, digital humanities, and emerging ideas” and to the actual material he is collecting and examining. He is using digital means to record information about a digital phenomenon.  His methods are cutting-edge. They might influence methodological choices and thinking about future research projects.  For example, during the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, much politically engaged poetry was disseminated by way of phonograph records and tape recordings [see the Discography and Tape Index, pages 448-454, in Eugene B. Redmond’s Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry (Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1976)]. Now, engaged poetry is transmitted by video recordings in a social network.  To what extent is the current phenomenon indebted to the Black Arts Movement?  How are the cognitive and aesthetic effects of what is occurring now different from those that obtained fifty years ago?

It is obvious that Rambsy’s work is more germane to cultural and literacy studies than to traditional literary studies (if one uses a strict definition of “literary”), because the research results in the creation of data to mark the occurrence of a trend which may or may not become a lasting feature of African American cultural practices.  Implicit questions multiply and give us new directions to explore.

Rambsy’s research at the moment is a logical development of the work that informed his book The Black Arts Enterprise and the Production of African American Poetry (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011) as well as the critical attention to poetry and  Afrofuturism  in the special issue of Journal of Ethnic American Literature, Issue 4 (2014), which he guest-edited.

His research on poets “speaking out “ about the tragedy of  Ferguson  and his website are valuable resources for inquiry about  the impact technology (digital humanities) can have on literary production, on  recycling and new uses of poetry texts from the near past , on symbolic rhetoric  in the United States, and on reader/viewer reception and response.   African American Research members can profit from how Rambsy has used his website to produce new ideas and models for research in African American literature and culture.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

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