“Words Don’t Go There”: An Interview with Fred Moten

Sonia Sanchez, 1972, NYPL

Sonia Sanchez, 1972, NYPL

ROWELL: The Black Arts Movement created a generation of African-American poets. Rita Dove and Yusef Komunyakaa represent another generation that comes after the Movement. Two more generations follow these two poets. How would you describe recent black poetry? Can we pin it down the way we can the poetry of the Movement? I am willing to celebrate the poetry being written now because it is not controlled by a collective or individual prescription or dicta. The poets are now as free as our jazz [End Page 965] musicians; they are free to create out of themselves, their own private lives, which is the source of all art. The new poets are striking out in so many different directions and coming up with so much. I consider this to be an extraordinary time in African-American poetry. There is a lot happening.

MOTEN: That’s very true and yet I think there was always a lot happening. The Harlem Renaissance was broad enough to contain the vast formal difference between Claude McKay and Langston Hughes just as the Black Arts Movement was expansive enough to encompass Sonia Sanchez and Haki Madhubuti. And when you consider that at the same time you’ve got Gwendolyn Brooks and Robert Hayden, N. H. Pritchard and Julia Fields, it makes you kind of wonder, on the one hand, how folks could blind themselves to such diversity and, on the other hand, how others could take such blindness so seriously. Anyway, the point is that now there is a whole bunch of great black poets writing, performing, and recording in a whole bunch of ways and that is extraordinarily exciting. Between Ed Roberson’s architecture and Tracie Morris’s acoustics and these old MC Lyte twelve-inches I’ve been playing I don’t know what do with myself. It’s too much! Obviously, there are significant differences both between these poets and between those types of poetry that foreground either the literary or the performative; nevertheless, you can’t help but recognize the kinship between them and I just want to be part of the family.

Source: Project MUSE – “Words Don’t Go There”: An Interview with Fred Moten (2004)


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