no black boy scouts


At a poetry reading and talk that Ed Roberson gave at Northwestern on November 14, 2007, he pointed out that he is a Black poet who writes nature poems. Roberson didn’t say, though he certainly could have, that his view of nature breaks as well as critiques the historical conventions of nature poetry, which is the picturesque view that enables the poet to believe there is a sanctuary outside of human reality. In contrast to much nature poetry written in this vein, particularly as the subject was initially formulated in English Romantic poetry, Roberson’s work does not view landscapes as sublime or transcendent, or as embodying proof of God’s existence. He has consciously broken with a radical literary and artistic tradition that includes William Wordsworth, William Blake, and Vincent van Gogh, but that is now both dated and diluted. While Roberson’s statement at Northwestern might not initially seem sweeping or even unusual, it gains in resonance once you place it in the historical context of what happened in American poetry after 1960, when Grove Press published the groundbreaking anthology The New American Poetry 1945–1960, edited by Donald Allen. The only Black poet in Allen’s anthology was LeRoi Jones. (In 1967, Jones changed his name to Imamu Ameer Baraka, and later to Amiri Baraka.) It is within the violent decade of 1960–1970, and what happened both in America and in American poetry, that Roberson’s self-definition must first be seen.

more from John Yau at Poetry here.