It all rolls back to audience and entertainment. If Langston Hughes needed to be discovered, God knows how many other poets need to too. The art is a solitary one for the most part. One reads, writes, studies, and also engages other writers. Audience is a dream-a blowing up-an elevation to another level. The other writers full of nuance and craft, are experts, if not priests of the words. Their words nurture; but rarely pay bills; their words critique and challenge, but rarely pay bills; their words comfort and draw attention to the larger struggle; but rarely pay bills.
Yes, art is entertainment, but we dare not call entertainment art, though Hollywood must have as much craft as the greatest of poets (and millions of dollars too) I might add. Art in general and poetry in specific, when it is named and recognized publicly as art, increases its value in the eyes of its audience. Many a Negro and artist will sing on the street, scribble their poems on napkins, or recite them at the family reunion. For all practicality those are simply expressions of folk art. It might as well be slaves singing spirituals about getting free that appear to be about Jesus. But if they get discovered, that’s a different matter. For the discovery says a market (in most cases white) is capable of recognizing the value of the art financially in the larger society.
And for poetry the pickings are slim but significant. It’s business not business, like tofu is meat not meat. It is an academic position, a tenure track job, a fellowship, an appointment. It is the recognition of the value by being transported into the center spotlight of the white gaze who dictates the empire’s position on art and its profitability.
Hip hop holds weight, though the Academy and black intellectuals have the usual jetlag in relationship to it. The skill employed by these poets exist outside of the Academy and rose outside the stadium of intellectual spectacle garnered by the academy. Black Poets today are faced with the difficult prospect of showing themselves to be Black Poets when the majority of the need for identification with black poetry is served by hip-hop.
But though a white audience can listen to hip-hop all day and form a significant part of they market; they are destabilized by the idea that it is poetry of the highest order. The bandwidth of hip-hop is wide, the music accompanies the text, like that thing the slaves did before they got here. Matter of fact, the text need musical notation to suggest how it is spoken. I suggest we begin with the Chinese tones to get a more detailed picture of what is really going on in a hip-hop poem on the page.
The page and the stage boo.
The page and the stage boo.
Somebody tell me who you singing too?