Tuesday, February 23, 2021

"Dinosaurs in the Hood"

 I'm happy with this module page for my spring-semester lecture, and thought I'd share it here as a sample of the utility of depending more heavily on a Canvas site to teach than I usually do but also as an illustration of one very small part of why teaching online synchronously does seem to involve much more work than teaching as I have done it for many years.  I am going to keep this modality, by the way, when I'm teaching in a classroom again, but I worry about the pronounced trend whereby faculty workload always increases without there being anything that gives....

The class syllabus can be found here; the reading for this week is Danez Smith's chapbook Black Movie.  Caveat: the links to internal course readings won't work for readers here, I think, just the external links.


"Before Lecture #7: Black abundance"

When I write the lecture each week, I try to construct it so that if you've had a chance to spend some time reading the materials in the module page, you will get more out of it, but if you haven't yet looked at the materials, the lecture will still be welcoming and interesting.  The tightness of the interval between Monday seminar and Wednesday lecture, the state of fatigue we're all in, the fact that I'm only putting these words together on Tuesday morning - all these conspire to lead to me saying that if you don't have any wherewithal to read in preparation for lecture tomorrow, that's fine!

If your brain needs poetry this week, though, which mine definitely does, Danez Smith's Black Movie is one of the most galvanizing and beautiful and tragic and angry books of poems I have ever read, and I think you will find the time you spend with the poems in this chapbook extremely rewarding.

There are two poems I'm likely to treat in class at greater length.  The second is readily available online in text and performance versions, so that's perhaps the one to start with:

"Dinosaurs in the Hood" (39-40) and an indispensable recording of Danez Smith reading "Dinosaur in the Hood" here 

I am also hoping to look at "Short Film" (20-31), possibly the most devastating poem in the collection.  Here Danez Smith performs poem 2 in the sequence, "not an elegy for Mike Brown."  - the text can be found here.

Two more links for you: a great short piece where Smith writes about the influence on them of hearing the great Black Arts Movement poet Amiri Baraka on Simmons' Def Poetry Jam and a direct link to the clip of the show Smith refers to


We have an extended archive I'll draw on for lecture.  First up is Johnson and Blacksher's essay On the End of Slam.  You can also, if you're curious, follow up with Johnson's fuller account of Button Poetry and its problematic YouTube archive here, and Dwight Conquergood's essay "Beyond the Text" offers some useful theoretical terms for thinking about performance in relation to text in this and other contexts.  

The concept of "black abundance" comes by way of Kiese Laymon's Heavy, a book that can be read powerfully in tandem with Smith's poetry.  The other book I would assign if we were doing a seminar version of this course (and yes I think maybe I should teach one that would let this material expand for fuller treatment...) is Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped.

Mos Def's album Black on Both Sides is essential listening for my generation, and if you don't know it, you should.  If you wanted to listen to one track right now, you could check out "Hip Hop" and/or the sequel song "Rock N Roll"...