MFA Course, Modernist Africana Poetry as inspired by the work Brenda Marie Osbey and guided by Chris Sindt

Back in September 2014, I went to what remains one of the best conferences that I ever attend:  Furious Flower.  It celebrates the literary and artistic work of African Americans and afrodescendientes.  It only occurs every 10 years and has only happened 3 times.  I attended the second conference in 2004 and the third in 2014.

During one of the panels, I learned of the work of Brenda Marie Osbey.  She spoke of her design of a class called, Modernist Africana Poetry of the Americas, that roots modernism within the work of afrodescendientes.  I was intrigued.  I had purchased a ticket to the Lifetime Achievement luncheon were luminaries within the tradition were honored; she was one of those luminaries, and I happened to sit at her table.  We spoke a bit about academia, about poetry, and my interest in her course.   I shared with her then how interested I would be in following the course of study she depicts and that I would suggest it as an independent study at my campus with her permission.  She happily gave it.  I proposed the independent study with slight modifications in November.  It was approved sometime in February or March.

Check out her course here.

At the time that I proposed the independent study, I was interested in a poetry project drawing from work in the black prophetic tradition, unpacking those three works separately and together.  Dr. Cornel West had just visited campus, sharing incendiary and fiery remarks.  I had already been writing a few months on the black expat experience from my brief personal experience and as a result of study of the lives of Josephine Baker and James Baldwin.  Some of those poems will appear in the my third book.  I was thinking to extend that work into an entire book length work.  My previous three collections always have a thread that leads into the next work.  It would continue in that path … so I thought.

In the time since the original proposal and now, I have had some shifts happen.  I began a Facebook correspondence with Teri Ellen Cross-Davis, who I know from way back at Cave Canem (2003).  She had posted a status update, which showed up in my newsfeed, about afrodescendiente vampires, appearance, and mythologies.  We talked about doing a crown of sonnets together, from male/mortal and female/immortal perspectives.  It’s an idea that still interests me greatly.  I happened to see her at AWP and we chatted about the idea again, both with great excitement.  She had been assembling Pinterest boards, and I had been thinking about character.

Since then, I’ve been creating a different mythology that blends spirit, ideas of possession, science fiction, fantasy, ecopoetics, and the lyric.  I’ve written a few poems, determine names for some characters in the universe within my head, thought of superficial traits they might have.  I’ve gone far deeper beyond the rabbit hole.  I often found myself dictating the stories on top of stories as I commuted from work late in the evening to home.  It was a tactic to keep my mind engaged and wary while exceedingly tired.  Tuesday through Friday this semester I was generally working or taking classes from 8:30  am to 9pm.

I also decided to, after classes ended, take another class with Angela Hume at University Press Books on the lyric.  I’ve been writing poems for the series, drawing from additional turns in the narrative.  It’s been somewhat liberating to create and do research that feeds into the poem.  So little and so much is from me.

All that said, my focus for this independent study shifted, too, from the black prophetic tradition solely and trying to connect the creative and analytical work of the Modernist Africana Poetry to it … to using my studies to fuel an ars poetica for this new work and the writing of 15 new poems.  15 poems in 8 weeks, not counting the translations I’m planning on doing?  No problem, right?

I just proposed some possible changes to my overly ambitious schedule.  I’m hoping that my advisor in this enterprise, Dr. Chris Sindt, agrees.

  1. June 8: Roger Reeve and Evie Shockley (not for modernism but for literary inspiration)
  2. June 15:  Dario (translation), James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay and five new poems
  3. June 22:  9 Poems in Translation (Caldas Barbosa, Les Cenelles, Obeso) 
  4. June 29: Cullen, Hughes, Johnson, Toomer (and five new poems)
  5. July 6: de Andrade (translation), Desvairada (translation), 
  6. July 13: Guillen (translation), Cesaire (translation), Damas (translation), Tirolien (translation) (and five new poems)
  7. July 20: Brooks, Tolson, Hayden, Carter (and ars poetica)
  8. Completed translations (on the blog), 15 poems (sent via email), and ars poetica (on the blog) 

I just sent that email but realized that it would probably be unreasonable to do essentially 15 translations and 15 poems.  I’d like to do a good sampling of the Caldas Barbosa, Les Cenelles, and Obeso.  I can get the remaining poets in translation and probably don’t need to do the translating myself, though it’s good exercise.  I have formal and informal study background in Spanish, Portuguese, and French, but my Portuguese and French is especially bad these days since I don’t use it very often, and even my Spanish, since the death of my grandmother, mostly is used in reading, cursing, food, or dreams.

I just think that it is important to give an idea of how I came to the topic and how a conference, an independent study application, campus speaker, a Facebook conversation, a AWP check in, a meeting with Chris over coffee, and all the in betweens led to this project right now.

Ah, and I am also headed to Kenya in a few weeks, going to work on a teaching and research project.  I’m hoping that experience will tie into what I am writing as well.

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