10 August 2010

Spoken Word Street Lit

Speak the Unspeakable Book Cover
When thinking about Street Literature, there are many angles to think about that rounds out the picture of all of what Street Literature has been, is, and can be. Poetry is one literary form where vivid truths about inner city living, thinking, and being, come to light.

Jessica Holter, is an amazing author whose poetry comes from a stance of liberation, truth, and activism. Her organization, "The Punany Poets" write and perform spoken word poetry about sex education and HIV/AIDS awareness. They were once featured on HBO's program, Real Sex (See her website at: http://www.punanypoets.com/).

The one thing that I've seen educators get in bunches about when it comes to Street Literature is this issue of sex in the novels. I've heard many educated, adult grown, librarians and teachers, bemoan the genre for its "raw, graphic sex." I've seen where the entire Street Lit genre has been defined based on the "raw, graphic sex"-ness of the genre, as if that is all that the genre is about. Okay - I get that - that's part of the historic situated-ness of the genre too. Stephen Crane went through the same thing when trying to publish his debut novel, Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, in 1893.

However, just as Holter's title states, to "speak the unspeakable" is also what Street Lit does. Street Lit is revolutionary in that regard; by "speaking the unspeakable" it holds no punches, it tells it like it is, it tells the world what is going on and poppin' in the hood - sex, violence, drugs, drama, yes, but also, love, commitment, honor, family, and community - whether the world likes it or not.

Poets like Holter, Patricia Smith, and even Jill Scott (see her poetry book, The Moments, The Minutes, The Hours - better yet, listen to her music, notably her song, "Rasool") add to the Street Lit conversation with their honest portrayals of the complexities of relationships (be they familial, friend/kin-based, or intimate) in inner-city settings - in the voices of women yes, but men and children, also. Another artist that has performed important tales about life in the hood is Erykah Badu. Pay particular attention to her songs, "Other Side of the Game" and "Danger." For poetic expression from a male point of view, check out Saul Wiliams' The Dead Emcee Scrolls: The Lost Teachings of Hip Hop. From a musical standpoint, I'd be remiss if I didn't refer you to the bard-ification of street life in the music of the amazing Philadelphia-based band, The Roots. But aaahhh .... that would bring us full circle back to Hip Hop, where we'd also have to talk about Common, and Mos Def, and KRSOne and, and, and .... but - I digress .... we not talkin' bout music here, we talkin words, poetry, spoken, given voice .... oh yeah, that's the original point of Hip Hop anyways ....

So if you haven't heard of Jessica Holter before, you must check her out. Her poem, Copy Cat Black, will definitely introduce you to important points she consistently makes in her work that pertain to personal accountability and responsibility (another theme that runs in street fiction - see Terra Little's Where There's Smoke, and ICE by Will Robbins, as examples). Also check out Holter's poem, Ghetto Girls Don't Lactate, which is an amazing statement about womanhood in the hood.

And as I've always positioned, life in the hood is not just about the Black experience. Holter's momma was White ..... See: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/jane-therese-my-mother-was-a-white-woman/ .... this poem vividly reminds us that inner city living is not a racial thing, it's a class thing, a socio-economic thing, an AMERICAN thing that does not discriminate. Alas, whether we want to deal with it or not, we are all in the hood together.

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