Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Progress" - West Coast Sounds and Audre Lorde

Beginning with Langston Hughes' discussion about perceptions of the "black poet" versus the "poet," I have been thinking about the idea of "progress" and how certain poets and forms of poetry are deemed as "progressive," while others' worth may be seen as regressive or unworthy. When I think of "progress" or poetry that is "progressive," I understand that to mean a form of writing that in some way challenges normative assumptions, whether that is done through form, content, the positionality of the poet, or the forum in which it is viewed. Within Kaufman's "West Coast Sounds - 1956"and Audre Lorde's "Poetry Is Not a Luxury," I thought again about this idea of "progressive poetry" and how each author appears to explore those ideas.

While reading "West Coast Sounds - 1956," I immediately felt a sense of forward movement. I hesitate to say "progress" as synonymous with what I call "forward movement" because it seems that the movement in this poem is not working towards some sort of betterment or change in the way that "progress" is usually defined. The poem articulates different forms of noise present within San Francisco - jazz, wig, earthquake, and other sounds. Different forms of sound and movement continue throughout the poem as various poets and authors are alluded to, as those which appear to exist in diverse spaces within the city. The writers always seem to be situated in opposition to the "common man" that exists in those diverse spaces which they occupy. The end of the poem reiterates this sense of movement as the author himself appears to be moving away from San Francisco - "splitting...Me too," seemingly towards somewhere with more opportunities or potential.

Audre Lorde's "Poetry Is Not a Luxury" similarly appears to articulate a sense of movement (progress?) that has often been unspoken. Lorde describes woman's power within the realm of poetry as that which is often subverted in white and male dominated fields. She highlights the diversity and power in women's experiences and explains that in relation to their poetry as a "revelatory distillation of experience." Lorde elaborates upon this in stating that "poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change." This sentence, to me, really spoke to the idea of "progress" and the ways in which poetry can serve as "progressive" (resistant) when taking content and the writer's positionality into account. "Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom," speaks of poetry as a revolutionary tool, which in that sense, I read as progressive.

Although both of these pieces are different from one another, a similar sense of "movement" or "progress" is explored. I wonder how, when speaking of work from poets of color, if this can be defined in a more universal or uniform way, or how each of you would define "progressive poetry" by writers of color, or if that even is something that is valuable in defining.

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