Meta DuEwa Jones argues that too much attention is paid to the subject matter, identity, history, politics or culture or personal biography in African American poetry. And, she states that not enough consideration is given to the poets craft and form of their poetry. “Comparatively less limelight is given to illuminate the writer’s meticulous work with form in metrical or free verse: his or her line integrity; penchant for assonance, alliteration, parataxis or punctuation; dense or sparse stanzas; use of syllabic or anagrammatic patterns; subtle or stark use of volume, intonation, and cadence to amplify or mute their performances; or crafting of tension and release through these and other poetic devices.”
Jones argues in her essay that African American poetry is many times viewed through a biased lens where African American poetry is often not considered as high art or literature (“we don’t go down that low.”). Ms. Jones mentions that black writers suffer racial profiling in the literary world because of prejudices reviewers or readers may have on what their ideal African American poet is: “I propose that its literary, if not literal, corollary, WWB—“writing while black” is also an insidious form of racial profiling by readers, editors, and publishers.” To transcend labels and stereotypes the poet’s work should be critically examined on the merit of the poetry. Questions Ms. Jones also raises for me is: Who are the literary critics? What backgrounds do they have? Are they mainly white men? How do they measure outstanding or excellent poetry? Which or what lens is the scholar or the teacher or the book reviewer going to use to consider African American poems for a text book, or a nomination for a Pulitzer or a National Book Award nominee. I think Ms. Jones makes a good argument that African American poetry even today is not fairly considered or judged on its artistic merits. Ms. Jones believes that “the best poems written by African Americans are first and foremost that, poems. As such, they should not be mined for racial, political, and cultural ore.” I agree with Ms. Jones that the best poems, are just poems. I agree too that the African American Literary fields is vast and comprehensive in its forms and subject matter. I wouldn’t be able to identify one voice that makes African American poetry distinctive. For example, Ms. Jones mentions the breadth of range in African American authors, some are lyric and form poets as well as experimental poets. After all is said in this essay I still wonder which poems get heard? Who has access to the poets of color that we are privileged to study in this course? Which communities are encouraged to become literary critics, book reviewers, teachers and scholars?