Black Took Collective’s Call For Dissonance Duriel E. Harris Dawn Lundy Martin Ronaldo V. Wilson
FOUNDED: 1999 LOCATION: CAVE CANEM RETREAT FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN POETS, ESOPUS, NY
At Cave Canem each year, a suite of black poets are invited to a castle to write poems. One night in 1999, we who have become Black Took called the other fellows down into the dungeon to begin to create an alternative sphere within Cave Canem. We hoped to have a conversation with the other writers there about whether or not our unique workshop space could be used to challenge how we think about representational forms of black identity and the poetics that they engender. Our driving questions were and are: How can our work move beyond normative aesthetic possibilities? What if we critiqued poetic conventions—metaphor, simile, meaning, the story—in our work, or discarded them completely? What if we broke down the assumptions about race that tend to go unchallenged in our “community,” make their ways into the poem, and are often blindly accepted in workshop? How might our gestures resist and speak powerfully against entrenched notions of identity, culture, and experience? Our wish is to respond to received ideas about what a black poetics is or is fantasized to be.
In the dungeon, effusing from the light fixtures [cavernous pit] an apparition, a familiar— the reiterative and irascible black poem, cloaked in “authenticity,” encircling black cultural experience with a stifling string of sites/cites/sights: the South, rivers, “Mother Africa”; odes to legendary black men; faceless ancestor shadows; remembrances of kin and the dozens; o noble savage; collards, cornbread and cornrows; sermons and the spirit; “old negro” bluesgospelbopsoulhiphop-’n’-rhyme rituals; frontporch fishfry upside the moaner’s bench (amen); revolution; good hair, hotcomb kitchens; color(ism); new jack city crack stories; tricksters and wanderers; the adventures of a negro history. . . .
Do these terms offer narratives that impede fresh considerations for another set of poetics? Have they become metaphorical loci of permanence and theme that suffocate the body that reads them, and the poet/poem who emits them? As Harryette Mullen aptly points out, “our anxiety to embody or represent black identity . . . may impov-