Contemporary Black Poetry, Traditions, and the Individual Talent
1. Walking (1963)
after the painting by Charles Alston
You tell me, knees are important, you kiss
your elders’ knees in utmost reverence.
The knees in this painting are what send the people forward.
Once progress felt real and inevitable,
as sure as the taste of licorice or lemons.
The painting was made after marching
in Birmingham, walking
into a light both brilliant and unseen.
—from “Fugue,” in Elizabeth Alexander’s
Antebellum Dream Book
This collection of eight substantial conversations with black poets, all born after World War II and comprising the generation following the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, offers readers—scholars, students, and a public interested in poetry—insight into the wide span of cultural and aesthetic concerns in black poetry today. The book’s title, from Elizabeth Alexander’s poem “Walking,” marks the collection’s generational focus: this is the first book of interviews published featuring the post-Black Arts Movement generation of contemporary poets. Concentrating on poets born between 1945 and 1965 whose poetry came into prominence during the 1980s and 1990s, this collection includes many of the most compelling and diverse voices of this generation: Wanda Coleman, Yusef Komunyakaa, Rita Dove, Thylias Moss, Harryette Mullen, Cornelius Eady, Cyrus Cassells, and Elizabeth Alexander. All of these poets are included because of their significant number of publications (at least four books of poetry),