This thesis speaks to the triumphs and tragedies of the Black experience. It attempts to look at Blackness through the lens of my combined experiences as a spoken word artist, a student in the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s creative writing program, my tenure as the Poet Laureate of the 18th & Vine Jazz District, and the work I’ve done as a public poet. It is a compendium of poems ranging from traditional forms such as the sonnet, the sestina, and the rondeau to performative poems; from ekphrastic poems to poems that were commissioned for various occasions. Many of the poems explore the dangers of merely existing as a Black man in America. The speakers in these poems are grappling with the realities of internal and external violence. The self-inflicted violence that is the result of social conditioning and the external violence inflicted by a systemically racist society. In other instances, the poems in this thesis are jazz poems, which is to say, poems that have been informed by jazz in both the subject matter and in rhythm. Over the years I have become a huge advocate of the utility of poetry in public spaces. How poems can be included in public art or how they can be the perfect mechanism for capturing and distilling the emotion of a public event. I am fortunate enough to have been asked to write poems for numerous events and special occasions so many of those poems have been included as well. Poetry offered for public consumption, or poetry that is performative, often differs from academic poetry in that it is – almost by necessity – more accessible. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it has less aesthetic or intellectual value. I would humbly argue that it is just more aware of – and concerned about – its audience. Gifted lyricist, Black Thought, from the hip hop band, The Roots, offered the following line that perfectly sums up my ongoing efforts as a poet, “I holla at the scholarly but street cats will follow me.” I can’t put it any simpler than that.
Table of Contents
Part 1, Black and Blue. Introduction -- Lynch Family Blues -- How to Mourn a Brown Boy -- Yard Work -- Visiting an Old Friend -- The Prodigal Poem -- Boys with Guns -- I Don’t Usually Write Nature Poems -- Self Portrait of Michael Brown Murdered at 18 -- this ain’t nuthin new -- Her Dark Lament -- Untitled (or Fear of a Black Planet) -- Celebration -- Part 2, All that Jazz. Revival -- Praise Song for Julia Lee -- Borrowed Brilliance -- Beholding Big Joe Turner -- For John Coltrane -- Monk -- A Verse for Ella -- Check Cashing Day -- Why Black Folks Like to Dance -- Part 3, Poetry for the People. Concerning the Emptiness of Earthen Vessels -- A Psalm for The Word Gatherers -- HOWL: The Remix -- The Seed of Star Child -- On the Profundity of Patterns -- The Wars We Start -- Sacrificial Giving -- The House of Seven Hungers -- 400 Year: Still Here -- What Were Their Names --Notes
M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts)