Black Poetry Writing Month: Traveling through Time…Black Arts Movement

Welcome to Week 3 of BlaPoWriMo!

For the uninitiated, Black Poetry Writing Month (BlaPoWriMo) is a month-long writing challenge that combines the ambition of National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) with the history, education, and self-reflection of Black History Month.

This year, we are going on a journey through the eras of black history and poetry.

How did you enjoy writing your Harlem Renaissance-inspired poems? Did you have an explosion of creativity? Did you use other genres like art or music to inspire your writing? Did you improvise your work, showing off the innate genius that has always resided within you?

Did you get sick in the middle of the week like I did and miss out on all the fun? Well, you’re in luck. Remember, these weekly themes are only optional, so if you want to continue writing poetry inspired by the era of the Harlem Renaissance, or even go back another week to revisit the era of slavery, feel free to do so! Just remember to tag your posts BlaPoWriMo, so I can find them and give you a shoutout!

Now, let’s journey on to the next era: The Black Arts Movement!

The Black Arts Movement began in 1960 and lasted through about 1975. These years were troubling politically, especially for blacks in America. This was also the era of the Civil Rights Movement, when leaders and outspoken orators like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X rose to speak out for the freedoms of their marginalized black brothers and sisters. There were sit-ins and marches, boycotts, peaceful and violent protests. Black freedom seekers were often sprayed down with firehoses, attacked with police dogs, their churches and homes bombed by white supremacists.

As a result, blacks became angrier, more militant and radical in their activism. This decade also saw the birth of the Black Power Movement and the notorious Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. With all of this going on, it would be foolish to limit the Black Arts Movement to just that, an “arts” movement. No, it was just as much political and social as it was artistic.

The Black Arts Movement is radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates him from his community. Black Art is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept. As such, it envisions an art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America . . . The Black Arts and the Black Power concept both relate broadly to the Afro-American’s desire for self-determination and nationhood. Both concepts are nationalistic.

—Larry Neal (quote pulled from the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, Second Edition, edited by Henry Louis Gate, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay

The Black Arts Movement is without a doubt one of my favorite artistic and literary movements.

Not only because it was pioneered by black writers like myself, but because it was so unapologetically BLACK! These were people who were FED UP, and they didn’t give a flying fuck about political correctness. They were going to provide a voice to the revolution, a voice to the people who had been beaten and shut down by white supremacy. They were going to fight by any means necessary for the liberation of black people in America. Slavery might have ended 100 years prior, but they were by no means free…yet.

Likewise, the poetry produced in this era was revolutionary. Famous poets of the time include Amiri Baraka, Etheridge Knight, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, and many others. The poems of the Black Arts Movement were simple, their messages made plain as the words written on the page. These writings weren’t meant to prove to whites that blacks were competent, or could understand sophisticated literary tropes. Nah, writers of the Black Arts Movement were done kissing up to Uncle Sam! Their poems were a communication to their fellow African Americans… Rise up. Be proud of who you are, of what color you are. Stand. Fight. Poems were usually performative, almost like what spoken word or SLAM is today. Usually written in free verse, the poems were very conversational, often musical, and adapted the vernacular characteristics of “black mass speech,” like a preacher’s sermon, for example.
One of my favorite poets of this time period was Amiri Baraka, who recently passed away in 2014.

His poem, appropriately titled “Black Art” sums up what this literary, artistic, social, and political movement was all about. To fully understand the scope of this powerful poem, you really must hear it, which is why I’m switching things up and giving you an audio poem to inspire your week of writing Black Art. Of course, if you need further inspiration, feel free to look up the other poets mentioned in this post.

So, are you ready for BlaPoWriMo?

You don’t have to be black to participate. This is not a space for discrimination but education. As long as you write a poem every day this month and your poem aligns with the theme for the week or focuses on blackness/race in general, there’s no reason not to join!

Be sure to add your links to the prompt posts for the week (ex. link your “Black Art” poems to this post) so others can read your poem. You can also tag your posts BlaPoWriMo so we can find you in the WordPress Reader.

By the way, I’m on Twitter! I previously created a separate account for BlaPoWriMo, but that became too much of a hassle, so follow me @Nortina_Mariela and tweet the hashtag #BlaPoWriMo. I’ll be retweeting your tweets all month long!

Will you join the challenge this month? I’m excited to see the poems you create!

Happy Black Poetry Writing Month!

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