This week, I had the opportunity to share and discuss excerpts from The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop with my intermediate composition class. Along with the poems, we also read some of the Ars Poeticas & Essays included in the anthology. Going between poems and prose allowed me to supplement the discussion with further insights into my own poetry literacy.
The following excerpt from “Art, Artice, and Artifact” by Quraysh Ali Lansana, for example, has the poet discussing Gwendolyn Brooks and her attitude towards hip-hop:
Ms. Brooks possessed a guarded optimism toward hip-hop. She appreciated rap as poetry, or at least as lyric. But, she found most of the language unoriginal and the music mostly boisterous. Ms. Brooks never employed profanity in her work. She considered swear words a reflection of a poverty of ideas, which in turn would make most rap Fat Albert’s junkyard. However, as she shared in workshop, if there is no other word that will be as precise in communicating your concept, then use that word. She believed in “exactness” and her enduring poetry bears witness to this.
This anecdote prompted me to share this week’s poem, “The Bean Eaters,” as an example of what Lansana means when he talks of Brooks believing in “exactness.” It is the exactness of her phrasing as well as the details given of this couple’s world that make this poem the compelling work of art that it is. This exactness is present even at the level of sound; the pairing of “twinklings and twinges” strikes the exact note of bittersweet memory to move a reader to put this poem away in their heart.
They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.
And remembering …
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.
Happy twinkling and twinging,
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