Is it me, or is poetry exceptional at the moment?
Nia Hampton | Monday October 2nd 2017
They say art is at its best when the world is in shambles, and maybe that is why poetry has been especially poignant as of late. Perhaps it’s my own projection. Poetry has probably been consistently great even throughout the Obama years, but I wouldn’t know for sure. I fell out of love with poetry in 2012. Before that, I myself was a spoken word poet. One of those “I have a poem for every occasion” types. I even threw open mic events with a group of friends in Baltimore. But, my relationship to performing poetry was in flux. I grew tired of the scene, and the repetitive themes. Going to open mics started to feel like watching people simultaneously cry and masturbate. I gradually dropped out, and at the same time, I took my first creative non-fiction writing class and found that I was a fan of the long form medium. And I’ve never really looked back, until this year.
This summer, I had the honor of going to the Voice of Our Nations Arts writing workshop in Philadelphia, where I work-shopped a science fiction story under the incomparable Tananarive Due. My peers were all amazing authors and artists in their own right. Specifically Muriel Leung, who recently published her chapbook, “Bone Confetti” in 2016 through Noemi Press. A casually dark text that deals with death and longing, this book made me realize that the genre of poetry is so much more than what I was exposed to in the spoken word scene. It’s much more than what we’ve been exposed through with the recent rise of the Instagram poet. Despite my love for a few standouts like Nayyirah Waheed and Yrsa Daley Ward, I think the poets who are more successful at the moment tend to be the more accessible ones. And I think that’s a good and bad thing. It’s good because poetry is for everyone. It shouldn’t be about how obscure your references are or how big your words are. It’s about how it feels. However, without exposure, where do we access or develop a taste for challenging poetry? Is there a happy medium?
Some authors, like Morgan Parker, do an excellent job of giving readers simple references without oversimplifying their work. Take, for instance, her latest offering, “There are more beautiful things than Beyonce”, seemingly an entire book of poems about Beyonce. But it’s also about so much more than that, and the book features works that I sometimes had to re-read and revisit to really get the gist of. It was through Leung and Parkers works that I fell back in love with the genre. Sometimes poetry reads like a puzzle, other times a birth certificate. Here are two poems that really captured my own feelings about my life and the world at the moment. The first is “if it’s about abuse, than yes, i’ll answer questions” by Luther Hughes, which I have been re-reading throughout confronting my past sexual abuse with my therapist. The second is “If I could vote, I’d vote for Cardi B” by Manuel Arturo-Abreu, which resonates with me because I’m really beyond tired of the current president but finding hope and solace in watching Cardi B succeed in her career.
Trying to figure out how you feel about what someone else feels is what makes the experience what it is. Poetry is someone else’s expression, but also a vehicle to use to address emotions within yourself.
Carrie Mae Weems Art of a Fallen Woman,” 1988.