Why Do So Few Blacks Study Creative Writing?Always the same, sweet hurt,The understanding that settles in the eyesSooner or later, at the end of class,In the silence pooling in the room.Sooner or later it comes to this,You stand face to face with yourYounger face and you have to answerA student, a young woman this time,And you're alone in the class roomOr in your office, a day or so later,And she has to know, if all musicBegins equal, why this poem of hersNeeded a passport, a glossary,A disclaimer. It was as if I were...What? Talking for the first time?Giving yourself up? Away?There are worlds, and there are worlds,She reminds you. She needs to knowWhat's wrong with me? and you wantTo crowbar or spade her hurtTo the air. You want photosynthesisTo break it down to an organic language.You want to shake I hear youInto her ear, armor her lifeWith permission. Really, whatCan I say? That if she choosesTo remain here the termNeighborhood will always haveA foreign stress, that thereWill always be the momentThe small, hard detailsOf your life will be madeTo circle their wagons?
I tell everybody that I am, at my core, a failed rapper. But I am also a failed djimbe drummer. And perhaps most importantly, I am a failed poet. Eons ago when I thought I was destined for Iowa, this piece was essential to me. Ultimately, it wasn't the lack of a glossary that doomed me, it was lack of talent. Indeed, living in Washington, and being around Howard, I had the luxury of knowing a lot of African-American poets who were simply better. But still, so much of this was true of what I saw in my earliest workshops.
And it's true of what we see in a certain sector of our country--There are worlds and there are worlds. And its true of our president being made to present his papers--The small hard details/Of Your life will be made/To circle their wagons.
But it isn't true of the country as a whole. As surely as I spent the week laughing at Fox News, laughing at Karl Rove, laughing at what "ain't poetry," I know that I was not laughing alone. Hip-hop helped make that so.
The culture wars are over. We win.
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