aesthetic spins: of poetry and protest
The distinction Louise M. Rosenblatt made in The Reader, The Text, The Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978) between aesthetic reading and efferent reading focuses on directedness. For the efferent reader, the main concern is acquiring information. Less concerned with utility as such, the aesthetic reader centers "directly on what he is living through during his relationship with that particular text"(25). Rosenblatt constructs no brick, iron or bamboo wall between the modes of reading, because the aesthetic involves a degree of the efferent. Given the difference between a cooking recipe and a poem, the efferent need not incorporate the aesthetic. The experience of reading
Medina, Tony, ed. Resisting Arrest: Poems to Stretch the Sky. Durham, NC: Jacar Press, 2016.
Cushway, Philip and Michael Warr, eds. Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016. $21.95
invites vacillating between aesthetic and efferent modes. One might note how aesthetic spins affect the EKG of the efferent.
This note focuses only on the anthology titles and adds a listing of the poets whose works appeared in both of the books. In the first instance, the title Resisting Arrest: Poems to Stretch the Sky provides a clever surprise. The main title triggers ideas about antagonism between police officers and citizens, the prison industry, and police killings as the current malady of choice in the United States. We think of information, as in Tony Medina's saying the poets in the book "remind us of a universal hurt, grief, anger, rage, shame and love that we all can recall when confronting the blunt reality and the savagery of abuses associated with corrupted power, indifference and intolerance" (x). The subtitle might remind us, on the other hand, of the magic of poetry, of its ability to make our minds the sky and stretch them.
Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin involves more unity of title and subtitle, suggesting poetry that protests is limited to violence and outrage. When we actually read the poems in the anthology, we quickly discover a broader meaning of protest. If we need help, Amiri Baraka's brief essay "Protest Poetry" (22-23) can guide us. His first sentence reads: "I have always resented the term 'protest poetry' because it seemed to me that it was dropping the poetry I felt closest to in a lead box so it wouldn't contaminate the dull ass mainstream" (22). His final paragraph reads: "So the main thrust of the term 'protest poetry' is to stigmatize the literature that questions the given, the status quo. But wouldn't that include The Egyptian Book of the Dead, the old and new testaments of the Bible. Isn't Revelation Protest Poetry?" (23). In the case of Baraka, I sense the aesthetic is the efferent.
It may interest a handful of readers to know the following poets have poems in both volumes:
Kwame Dawes/ Rita Dove/ Cornelius Eady/ Kelly Norman Ellis/ Patricia Spears Jones/ Douglas Kearney/ Yusef Komunyakaa/ Quraysh Alis Lansana/ Haki R. Madhubuti/ devorah major/ Marilyn Nelson/ Ishmael Reed/ Sonia Sanchez/ Quincy Troupe/ Frank X. Walker, and Afaa Michael Weaver.
Noting what efferent results come from the aesthetic spins of their poems is a timely exercise.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr. July 28, 2016