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Monday, December 26, 2016


On Reading Hoke Glover's Inheritance /

Listening to Poems from Inheritance

in Wuhan, China, Friday, December 16, 2016

Bro Yao (Glover, Hoke S. , III). Inheritance.  Detroit: Willow Books, 2016.

Two paragraphs from the August 17, 2016 entry on  Hoke Glover's might inform exploration of his poetry.  His analytic thought precludes our reading his poems as random post-modern explosions of feeling.  His thinking  about the space (the file cabinet of memory)  from which contemporary poetry emerges forces one to dwell with cognitive complication. The poems in Inheritance are not  "academic. "  They aren't  constricted by the aesthetic demands of some  MFA school of American poetry.  They provoke the bite of inwit, of motherwit.  Those were qualities I noted during my reading of his work in the early fall.  On the other hand, his poems  do not display some disruptive properties one might associate with radical, overtly abrasive, anti-academic poetry.  They  exist as Glover's pragmatic responses to contrived  arguments about what is authentically "Black."  Exceptionally savvy about writers, environments, and literary marketplaces, Glover challenges one to ponder the idea of Free Black Space and how it might position writing in a  geography of academic thought and practice.  He contended in his blog that

It is a strange feature of the age of Black Lives Matter that the HBCU sinks into the background. In matters of struggle, the African American’s confrontation with white structures of power seem to be privileged over the black confrontation with what some call Free Black Space. For in Free Black Space restrictions on radicalism and speech lay, to some degree, outside the walls of the institution. In fact, in previous decades of struggle this Free Black Space was an essential feature of radicalism. Yet today, the HBCU seems just outside the view of radicalism. These institutions, especially in terms of creative arts, have been marginalized by segregation. But there are still pockets of hope that give rise to alternative perspectives.

The challenge is the HBCU's English Department is primarily a service department, that in the current educational environment, has difficulty attracting authors to its faculty. And writers hired by the HBCU tend not to stay. In the post segregation educational market, African American authors of note, much like athletes who dream of being professionals, seek employment at predominantly white institutions (PWIs). The advantages are obvious: lighter course loads, more focused research, higher salaries, and fewer composition courses. But there are downsides there as well. The PWI environment is one whose demographics represent the opposite of the HBCU. The talk of micro-aggressions and the recent spotlight on racist incidents on college campuses in conjunction with Black Lives Matter, offers a different narrative than the one many HBCU professors and students experience. In the larger arc one conclusion to be drawn is that the HBCU environment allows the writer to pursue their [sic] artistic vision in conjunction with an immersion into African American culture that gives rise to a black perspective in writing.

While Glover's comments pertain in a special way to writers who teach in colleges and universities, they are relevant in considering that writers who have non-academic jobs or who are jobless can also be affected by academic  tyranny .  Glover is concerned with the F.B.I. (Free Black Initiative) "framing" that poetics,  contemporary poetry,  and criticism of poetry can't avoid. The poetry and the criticism, according to Glover,  function in spaces of maximum difference and contradictions.  Poets and their critics can be  damned by hyper-self-consciousness of anxiety in the face of the actual.

 Our literary economy is such that writers who want to occupy a pre-1980s position within Free Black Space must not expect to have their works studied in classrooms,  to have noteworthy sales, or to be lionized.  It is not the case that fiercely independent writers are unknown.  They do win prizes.  They do appeal to small clusters of readers who  disregard  a herd mentality.

 Writers who know how to "work" the market may  have decent sales, or  they may achieve a modicum of "underground"  fame which is eventually deemed prize-worthy. However much Glover champions the idea of Free Black Space, he is pragmatic, aware of the perpetual motions of yin and yang, aware that "Free Black Space" may be a misnomer.  He uses social networks and the art of compromise to supplement his writing of poetry, his efforts to deal with the complications of heritage.  If one hears faint echoes of Countee Cullen (What is Blackness to Me?) or of post-something anxiety  in his work, one's ears are not deceived.  His poems are less stylistically radical than some poems by writers who were included in the "free black space" of the anthology  The Break Beat Poets (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015).  They market themselves as  narratives of remembering which  appeal  to readers who refuse to go with the flow.

 It was clever of Glover to blog an advertisement for himself and two other writers who took advantage of "an immersion into African American culture" at Bowie State.  It is reasonable to think that awareness of such "less-than-free" immersion can influence a reading of Inheritance or that listening to Glover read his poems becomes a learning experience.

Earlier this month, Glover and I read our poems to each other at a Starbucks in Wuhan.  Both of us were teaching at Central China Normal University, and we had wanted to give a public reading from our new poetry collections.  He had sent a copy of Inheritance to me in September.  I gave him an autographed copy of FRACTAL SONG shortly after I arrived in Wuhan.   Our busy schedules and other glitches did not allow us to read for a Chinese audience, but our private, poem counter-poem reading was rewarding.  Glover was interested in hearing the  musicality embedded in my poems in FRACTAL SONG, especially in "Jazz to Jackson to John" and "Son to Father, With Love/Graveside Prayer";  I, in hearing the contours of emotion in his voice as he remembered his parents, remembered watching his father button a shirt  ("buttoning my shirt"), remembered the eyes of a fish ("secrets"),  remembered

i'm not interested in those

old movies anymore, but

i still love the idea of saving

someone from all the evil

in the world.  it's always

morning there, even when

you are in the dirt, face

down and counted out

("my father preaches his last sermon on the cowboys,"  36-37)

Listening to Glover expanded my ideas about those harmonious contradictions which appear to be natural in Chinese life and in instances of  African American poetry.  There was a certain "black" rightness in our sharing poems and vernacular commentary in an alien land.

Glover proudly admits his thinking about blackness and how to write poetry was influenced by the legendary Sekou Sundiata.  When I read his poems silently or listen to his voice in a land that fascinates both of us, I am impressed with the economy of his technique, his pressing dense meanings out of simple descriptions the way one can press oil from olives.  I am impressed with his assertive humility.  He captures the complexity of what is simple and ordinary with clarity and wit, tipping his hat to our ancestral poets who created  African American and African Diasporic traditions for us to inherit.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            December 26, 2016

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