This week, an email from James Madison University highlighted the Furious Flower Poetry Center, introducing me to the nation’s first academic center devoted to African American poetry. The center is dedicated to Gwendolyn Brooks and the name comes from one of her poems. During this year’s National Poetry Month, they will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of Brooks’ birth with special events and the awarding of the Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial Poetry Prize.
But, even if you can’t get to campus in Harrisonburg, they have extensive online resources from archived live events, a database of African American poets and an online journal called The Fight & the Fiddle.
One of my favorite poems in middle school was Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note by then LeRoi Jones. It was in a small paperback anthology of African American poetry that I probably got through the Scholastic book club.
Jones is now poet Amari Baraka and he did a reading as part of the Furious Flower 1994 conference. He shows the power of performance for making poems come alive. Sound, words, meaning flow together and force a new perspective on the listener. And listening to poetry with the words in front of you is a very different experience as you must immerse yourself in the performance. You can’t multitask. Take 20 minutes and add poetry to your day: