Urban Poetry: The Black Arts Movement
Unite, Barbara Jones, 1971
About the Author
Bob Eisberg is a sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade language arts literacy teacher in the citywide honors program at Forest Hill Elementary School in Camden, N.J., an inner-city community near Philadelphia. He previously was a reporter and editor at the Philadelphia Daily News and other newspapers.
“Forging the 20th Century Urban Identity” is Mr. Eisberg’s fourth National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminar or institute. Attending these summer programs has allowed him to pursue detailed study of various themes in literature and history, to develop new approaches to teaching and learning, and to build bridges with some of the most accomplished and passionate teacher-scholars in the country.
As in other parts of Urban Poetry unit, students should master the following objectives in the study of the Black Arts Movement:
· Analyze authors’ motives for writing specific poems.
· Identify the connection between themes and images in specific poems, particularly as they relate to urban life.
· Compare and contrast themes in poems, not only among poems of the era, but with poems of previous and later periods.
· Analyze the way authors show distinctive urban voices in poetry.
· Describe authors’ use of diction, tone, rhyme, meter, figurative language and other devices in poetry.
· Demonstrate how the authors’ work is connected to the social movements of their times.
· Explain the connections between the authors’ work and other arts of the time, including those in drama, music and visual arts.
· Respond in a variety of forms to themes and images in selected poems.
· Demonstrate their own voice in planning, writing, revising, publishing and performing poetry.
The objectives relate to the following New Jersey core curriculum standards for language arts literacy:
· Standard 3.1: All students will speak for a variety of real purposes and audiences.
· Standard 3.2: All students will listen actively in a variety of situations to information from a variety of sources.
· Standard 3.3: All students will write in clear, concise, organized language that varies in content and form for different audiences and purposes.
· Standard 3.4: All students will read various materials and texts with comprehension and critical analysis.
· Standard 3.5: All students will view, understand, and use non-textual visual information.
The objectives also relate to the following New Jersey cross-content workplace readiness standards:
· Standard 2: All students will use technology, information and other tools.
· Standard 3: All students will use critical thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving skills.
The Black Arts Movement has been called the sister of the Black Power movement that gained force, and generated controversy, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. The work produced by key figures in the movement, including Amiri Baraka, who opened the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School in Harlem for which the movement was named, was intended to convincingly and dramatically awaken black people to the meaning of their lives. Black artists were called upon to be morally and culturally responsible to black people for their work.
As in other movements, there was conflict about the political and artistic qualities of works that were produced, but the movement created a variety of journals and anthologies, such as Black Fire, and it flourished in a variety of locations. Urban centers and college campuses often were the scenes of new black theaters and organizations of nationalist-minded artists, writers, dancers and musicians. University black studies departments were frequently organized during this period.
Works in the movement were often criticized for their apocalyptic quality and for their harsh treatment of women and homosexuals. Although the end of the movement is difficult to pinpoint, scholars contend that the decline was based largely on growing political differences but that its influences on key artists remained.
It is difficult sometimes to classify specific artists as Black Arts Movement poets. Baraka, for example, was well known for his participation in the Beat Movement as LeRoi Jones. Gwendolyn Brooks had a long list of well-received work to her credit before the mid-1960s, but she developed a more militant aesthetic during this period.
“All in the Street,” in Baraka, Spirit Reach, Newark, N.J.: Jihad Productions, 1972, 10-13.
“A Poem for Democrats,” in Jones, The Dead Lecturer, New York: Grove Press, 1964, 39.
“Letter to E. Franklin Frazier,” in Vangelisti, Paul, ed., Transbluency: The Selected Poems of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1961-1995). New York: Marsilio, 1995, 121.
“History on Wheel,” in Transbluency, 151.
“Return of the Native,” in Randall, Dudley, ed., The Black Poets: A New Anthology, New York: Bantam, 1968, 222.
“Harlem Freeze Frame” in Jones, Leroi, and Larry Neal, eds., Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing. New York: William Morrow, 1968, 382.
“The Boy Died in My Alley” in Brooks, Beckonings, Detroit: Broadside Press, 1975, 5-6.
“The Life of Lincoln West,” in Brooks, Family Pictures, Detroit: Broadside Press, 1970, 9-13.
“The Wall,” in Brooks, In the Mecca, New York: Harper & Row, 1968, 42-43.
“Riot,” in Brooks, Riot, Detroit: Broadside Press, 1969, 9-10.
“To Mother and Steve,” in The Black Poets: A New Anthology, 184-186.
“Nikki-Rosa,” in Giovanni, The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni, New York: William Morrow, 1996, 42.
“Walking Down Park,” in Selected Poems, 80-82.
“Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why),” in Selected Poems, 92.
“Just a New York Poem,” in Selected Poems, 126-127.
“We,” in Selected Poems, 148.
“The New Yorkers,” in Selected Poems, 187-190.
“Iverson’s Posse,” in Giovanni, Blues: For all the Changes: New Poems, New York: William Morrow, 1999, 82-84.
“A Mother Speaks: The Algiers Motel Incident,” in The Black Poets, 291-292.
“Summertime and the Living…” in Hayden, Selected Poems, New York: October House, 1966, 53.
“Elegies for Paradise Valley,” in Hayden, American Journal, Taunton, Mass.: Effendi, 1978, unpaginated.
“The Rag Man,” in American Journal.
“Words in the Mourning Time,” in Hayden, Words in the Mourning Time, London: October House, 1970, 41-51.
“Poem from the Empire State,” in The Black Poets, 248.
“Clairvoyance,” in Black Spirits, 96.
“Back Again, Home (confessions of an ex-executive),” in The Black Poets, 295.
“Big Momma,” in The Black Poets, 304-306.
“Widow,” in Black Spirits, 131.
“The Narrative of the Black Magicians,” in Black Fire, 312-314.
“Harlem Gallery: From the Inside,” in The Black Poets, 268.
“The Melting Pot,” in The Black Poets, 141-142.
“Roses and Revolution,” in The Black Poets, 142-143.
“Ballad of Birmingham,” in The Black Poets, 143-144.
“The Idiot,” in The Black Poets, 144-145.
“Harlem ’67,” in Black Fire, 404-405.
Rivers, Conrad Kent
“The Still Voice of Harlem,” in Hayden, Robert, ed., Kaleidoscope: Poems by American Negro Poets, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1967, 206.
“The Subway,” in Kaleidoscope, 207.
“—a poem for nina simone to put some music to and blow our nigguh / minds—,’’ in Sanchez, We a BaddDDD People, Detroit: Broadside Press, 1970, 60.
“a ballad for stirling steet (to be sung),” in We a BaddDDD People, 66-67.
“Lady Day and John Coltrane,” in Scott-Heron, So Far, So Good, Chicago: Third World Press, 1990, 28.
“The Bottle,” in So Far, So Good, 34.
“Small Talk at 125th and Lenox,” in So Far, So Good, 38.
“Paint It Black,” in So Far, So Good, 39.
“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” in So Far, So Good, 46-48.
“A Sequence from The Roach Brothers, a Play,” in Black Spirits, 194-197.
· Preview unit by asking students to interview older relatives and friends about their memories of the 1960s and 1970s and report back in writing or orally. It is expected that students will gain descriptions of music and clothing of the era as well as insights into social unrest and turmoil.
· Begin examination of poetry by examining in a full class setting a poem such as Nikki Giovanni’s “Ego Tripping” and contrasting it to earlier poems such as Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”
· In small groups, develop webs about tone demonstrated in selected poems and report to full class.
· Select specific poems for examination in personal poetry journals.
· Draw pictures based on teacher or student reading of selected poems to demonstrate how poems ignite mental images. Use these pictures for bulletin board displays as unit progresses.
· View videos such the 1999 PBS series “I’ll Make Me a World” and “Eyes On The Prize II: America At The Racial Crossroads.”
· Connect to other expressions of black power movement by examining the words, actions and images of figures from Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Huey P. Newton of the Black Panther party to Tommie Smith and John Carlos, athletes expelled from the Olympics for giving the black power salute.
· View and describe the style and themes of such visual artists as Benny Andrews, Romare Bearden, Howardena Pindell, and Faith Ringgold.
· Listen to recordings of songs such as “I’m Black and I’m Proud” by James Brown.
· Using Internet and printed resources, write brief, illustrated reports about selected authors.
· In pairs or other appropriate small groups, brainstorm ideas, images and literary devices for poems about current inner city issues, including those related to family life, school, leisure and social problems.
· Using ideas from brainstorming sessions, write individual poems on a daily or weekly basis in poetry journals.
· After appropriate peer editing, publish selected work from poetry journals and place in school collection for other classes or include in school publications.
· Perform poems as part of school or community assembly.
Baraka, Imamu Amiri. Spirit Reach, Newark, N.J.: Jihad Productions1972, 10-13.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. Beckonings. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1975.
—. Family Pictures. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1970.
—. In the Mecca. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.
—. Riot. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1969.
Giovanni, Nikki. The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni. New York: William Morrow, 1996.
—. Blues: For all the Changes: New Poems. New York: William Morrow, 1999.
Hayden, Robert. Selected Poems. New York: October House, 1966.
—. American Journal. Taunton, Mass.: Effendi Press, 1978.
—. Words in the Mourning Time. London: October House, 1970.
Hayden, Robert, ed., Kaleidoscope: Poems by American Negro Poets, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1967.
Jones, LeRoi, The Dead Lecturer. New York: Grove Press, 1964.
Jones, LeRoi, and Larry Neal, eds. Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing. New York: William Morrow, 1968.
King, Woodie, ed. Black Spirits: A Festival of New Black Poets in America. New York: Random House, 1972.
Randall, Dudley, ed. The Black Poets: A New Anthology. New York: Bantam, 1985.
Scott-Heron, Gil. So Far, So Good. Chicago: Third World Press, 1990
Vangelisti, Paul, ed. Transbluency: The Selected Poems of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1961-1995). New York: Marsilio, 1995.
“Not a rhyme time, 1963-1986,” from the series “I’ll Make Me a World,” produced by Blackside, Inc., in association with Thirteen/WNET New York ; executive producer, Henry Hampton. Alexandria, Va., PBS Video, 1999.
“Ain't gonna shuffle no more, 1964-1972,” from the series “Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads,” a production of Blackside; produced, directed, and written by Sam Polland, Sheila Bernard. Alexandria, Va., PBS Video, 1990.
More information on the Black Arts Movement can be found at the following sites:
· A site for a University of Michigan course: http://www.umich.edu/~eng499/
· Modern American Poetry online journal citations: http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/blackarts/blackarts.htm
· An article from The Oxford Companion to African American Literature (New York, Oxford University Press, 1997), on the African American Literature Book Club site: http://aalbc.com/poet/blackartsmovement.htm
· An article from Africana.com: http://www.africana.com/Articles/tt_438.htm
An excellent gallery of works of visual artists from the period, from the University of Virginia, can be found at: http://www.people.virginia.edu/~bsh8f/blackart.html