Last week I had the opportunity to sit with a bunch of Brown students and listen to the BreakBeat Poets read. Dubbed as poets who write with verve, shock and argot of lives in the Hip Hop generation, they let it rip in a space with great music and a natural audience of students of color, mainly African-American and Asian-American.
The poetry was full of high jinks and supple language that was loose and natural in performance. Kevin Coval calls it “radical democracy.” Coval is an incisive poet and co-editor of The BreakBeat Poets (Haymarket Books), an anthology of language questioning, witnessing and breaking.
There was also loads of anger and rhetoric of students who were dismissing what they felt dismissed from. Get rid of those white poets, those old men, those fields of hay and horses and things that no one had ever experienced. That “white supremacy.” They refused to be white-washed, and rejected white models. Instead of “whiters,” these kids wanted to become writers.
After they finished dissing, I wanted to ask: what about and, not or. Could you read DJ Renegade and Joyce? KRS-One and Alexandr Blok? Blake & Drake? There are so many misfits, visionaries and rebels throughout history to learn from.
Then I remembered that I was once a Brown student. In my ’20s I wanted to throw overboard my intellectual training and aspirations. I discovered the “intelligence of the whole body.” At my ripe old age, I decided that the head can only tell you so much – and much of those orders will be to conquer and master. I used all kinds of venues – dancefloor, interviews with male and female rappers in my work as a music journalist – to discover that the body is a mode of attention, and can lead you to knowing how to participate in ground and nature. I.e., white men can’t do it.
When I was there in the ’80s, it felt like a big boisterous party that anyone could join. Identity politics hadn’t quite heated up.
Not so anymore. Identities are very prized and protected, stakes are high, blood is in the air on all sides. Performance and reality is deeply intermingled. Don’t forget Brown was the site where conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith erred and was gored; and virtual reality provides a natural place for insipid but damaging targeting of anonymous groups that call out “traitors,” poets who offend, and that names journals that don’t have editors of color.
I wouldn’t mind going back to the party.