Women's Poetry and
the Politics of the
Black Arts Movement
Cherise A. Pollard
Feminized from the moment of its inception as the Black Power Movement's "spiritual sister," the Black Arts Movement was in no way feminine.1 During the 1960s, the Black Power Movement's emphasis on Black nationalism informed the Black Arts Movement's political mission. From 1965 to 1976, the Black Arts Movement employed the theories of the black aesthetic to develop popular, yet political art forms such as music, theater, literature, and dance that tapped into America's black urban communities.2 In the realm of literature, most of the theorists of the black aesthetic were men such as LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Larry Neal, Addison Gayle, Jr., and Don L. Lee who attempted to reach the black masses through art forms that advanced the Black Power Movement's militant message. Political and didactic, black aesthetic poetry contributed greatly to the Black Arts and Black Power Movements' popularity. As they articulated black manhood through the pen, the gun, the penis, and the microphone, male poets in the Black Arts Movement defined and reified revolutionary black male identity.
Black women poets occupied a curious position in this political, social, and artistic environment. Most critics assume that women poets such as Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez were silenced and objectified by their black male counterparts as they stood in the men's shadows. To the contrary, many of these women worked both within and against the men's assumptions about the relationships between race and gender and art and politics. This chapter is a comparative analysis of the ways that black women poets critiqued the complexities of America's racial, sexual, and gender politics in the late 1960s in such works as LeRoi Jones' and Larry Neal's anthology, Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing (1968), Sonia Sanchez's collection of poems entitled Home Coming (1969), and Nikki Giovanni's book of poems, Black Feeling, Black