A Vintage Blue

Kamaria Muntu
18th February 2013, 14:04 GMT

June Jordan
June Jordan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sexism in the legendary Black Arts Movement (BAM) and Black Power movements of the 1960’s has long been a topic of highly debated and often contentious discourse among its critics and participants. The prevailing ideological orientation of the Black Power and the Black Arts Movement (insofar as the Black Arts Movement was conceived to be the spiritual sister of the Black Power concept) being nationalism. And though nationalists throughout the 1960’s to the present would find themselves splintered among varying nuances of ideological tendrils, the most decisive in terms of external prescriptions for women would emerge as cultural in opposition to revolutionary.

The tendency of cultural nationalism to focus an imagined Africa, rooted in patriarchal assumptions often resulted in conservative attitudes regarding Black male and female relationships, as well as Black women’s place in society and struggle.

The deliciously dialectical versing of Black Arts movement poets, particularly the women, displayed that they were not  unanimously consensual in this doctrinaire approach to Black culture that has been often purported by critics analysing the sexist character of that movement. To the contrary, the artistic expressions of the women poets of BAM were rife with sensuality and celebration of a feminine power, beauty and joy that extolled a healthy solidarity and communion with the folkways and passionate aspirations  of their grassroots sisters.

Lucille Clifton
Lucille Clifton

by Lucille Clifton

it lay in my palm soft and trembled
as a new bird and i thought about
authority and how it always insisted
on itself, how it was master
of the man, how it measured him, never
was ignored or denied, and how it promised
there would be sweetness if it was obeyed
just like the saints do, like the angels
and i opened the window and held out my
uncupped hand; i swear to god
i thought it could fly

In the poem entitled Blues, by Sonia Sanchez; sketches of African-American life allude to blues singer Bessie Smith, metaphorically aligning an affair with an unknown paramour.

by Sonia Sanchez

in the night
in my half hour
negro dreams
i hear voices knocking at the door

Women at a "Free Huey" rally
Women at a “Free Huey” rally

i see walls dripping screams up
and down the halls

won’t someone open
the door for me? won’t some
one schedule my sleep
and don’t ask no questions?
like when he took me to his
home away from home place
and i died the long sought after
death he’d planned for me.
Yeah, bessie he put in the bacon

Sonia Sanchez
Sonia Sanchez

and it overflowed the pot.
and two days later
when i was talking
i started to grin.
as everyone knows
i am still grinning.

Such audacious references to sexual liberation and women’s varied cultural experience, as well as the “race music” not generally condoned by a new myopic and monolithic African consciousness, were also highly characteristic of Black Arts Movement poets; Jayne Cortez, Mari Evans, Lucille Clifton, Nikki Giovanni, Sarah Webster Fabio, June Jordan and Audre Lorde. Throughout their extensive texts and the work of lesser known women-poets of the time, are signifiers of feminist/womanist and other liberating paradigms as they pertain to sexuality and choice.

The layers of Black woman’s experience as represented by romantic love, a freeing of style, expression and eclectic ritual fomenting and recreating feminine identity, act as sites of resistance in the writings of Black Arts Movement women of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Where Have You Gone
by Mari Evans

Where have you gone

Mari Evans
Mari Evans

with your confident
walk with
your crooked smile

why did you leave
when you took your
and departed
are you aware that
with you
went the sun
all light
and what few stars
there were?

where have you gone
with your confident
walk your
crooked smile the
rent money
in one pocket and
my heart
in another . ..

These women pioneers  were unquestionably in opposition to the prevailing gender oppression of their day. Their art, their spirits, their lives, their work, embodied feminist/womanist philosophies and striving, whether they donned the feminist label or not.

Sarah Webster Fabio – Sweet Song

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