In its early years, Poetry magazine threw its weight behind the Imagist movement, which included now-canonical poets like William "Red Wheelbarrow" Williams, Ezra "the Fascist Sympathizer" Pound, and H. "My Name Is Hilda Doolittle but for Obvious Poetry-Type Reasons I Need to Go by H.D." D.
With the help of Pound, Poetry also launched the Objectivist poets. But all that happened back in the 1920s and '30s. This month, Poetry lends its considerable historical clout to a new movement: the BreakBeat poets.
This is cool because: (1) The poetic movements mentioned earlier are largely white and male, whereas the BreakBeat poets are largely not. (2) The poems are really good. (3) April is National Poetry Month, which means national interest in poetry has increased from 3 percent to upward of 20 percent. The timing here seems intentional, designed to earnestly promote these voices.
Who are the BreakBeat poets? This month, Haymarket Books published an anthology called The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, edited by Kevin Coval, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and Nate Marshall. The anthology features 78 poets who range in age from boomers to millennials, and whose rhythms, attitudes, and subjects are heavily influenced by hiphop.
In particular, I’m swooning over these frenetic lines from Morgan Parker’s “Let Me Handle My Business, Damn:”
sick beats what more can I say to you
I open my stylish legs I get my swagger
back let men with gold teeth bow to my tits
and the blisters on my feet I become electric
Ditto these lines from Fatimah Asghar’s “Pluto Shits on the Universe,” though trade swooning for laughing:
Fuck your moon. Fuck your solar system.
Fuck your time. Your year? Your year ain’t
shit but a day to me.
In his introduction to the BreakBeat movement, “Blueprint for BreakBeat Writing,” Nate Marshall reminds readers of music’s centrality to artistic and political expression in black communities, drawing a direct line from the Harlem Renaissance to the Black Arts Movement to today’s BreakBeat poets.
“We write to assert the existence of ourselves, to assert our right to our own lives and bodies,” Marshall writes, using language that echoes both W.E.B Du Bois and the recent Black Lives Matter movement.
He also includes a seven-point manifesto that references Ezra Pound and Andre 3000. His core argument supports the advancement of a less fusty, more democratic and politically engaged poetry.
Hear, hear. I better be seeing this manifesto spray-painted on the walls of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and included next to "A Retrospect" in the next Norton Anthology of American Poetry.