Monday, March 31, 2014


Reading last week through the various fragments of Dudley Randall's selected writings (2009) and Melba Joyce Todd's extraordinary biography of Randall (2004) available online, I found myself thinking somewhat distractedly about the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, and other class-based organizations that emerged in Detroit through the late 1960s and early 1970s. So to complement the Randall and Todd readings I returned to Finally Got the News, the 1970 Black Star film produced in collaboration with the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, if only to think further about the completely startling first stanza of Randall's "A Poet Is Not a Jukebox" (1980):
A poet is not a jukebox, so don’t tell me what to write.
I read a dear friend a poem about love, and she said,
“You’re into that bag now, for whatever it’s worth,
But why don’t you write about the riot in Miami?” 
Dudley read widely, admired Keats and Shelley, and whether intentionally or not, these lines distantly echo a comparable concern Coleridge actively grapples with in "Reflections on Having Left a Place of Retirement" (1795):
Ah! quiet Dell! dear Cot, and Mount sublime!
I was constrain'd to quit you. Was it right,
While my unnumber'd brethren toil'd and bled,
That I should dream away the entrusted hours
On rose-leaf beds, pampering the coward heart
With feelings all too delicate for use?
Beyond wondering if the political force of Randall's poetry is in fact strengthened rather than diminished by his refusal to reduce his practice to something akin to cheap punditry, I found myself puzzling over the various forms of cultural and class particularity built into prosody and sound patterning. Across the past few years, as I struggle to more firmly grasp the mechanisms that enforce the reproduction of class, and as I continue to marvel at the endlessly twisting face of the freshly resurrected culture-of-poverty debate, exploring the link between prosody and class politics has never felt more vital.

Thinking about the clip immediately above from Finally Got the News, there seems a kind of lyricism built into the rant that begins the video (0:00 - 1:48)—that is, there seems something embedded in the sonic architecture of this resonyng complaynt that makes of it a music which is not conspicuously poetry but is arguably aesthetically immanent, and so I find myself wondering about a prosody of class-specific modes of informal protestation, kitchen talk, table talk, and I am reminded of speech patterns, ways of saying tangled up in thinking and seeing, in class-specific modes of perception, in scoring when writing, which tend to be devalued or dismissed until elevated to the level of the aesthetic, and I am reminded mostly of talk, table talk in break rooms at various factories, packaging plants and other places of work, or the violently lyrical rants and conversation and arguments I grew up around, the sound patterns and intuitive linguistic impulses that reproduce themselves endlessly, as though the throat itself were inscribed with or scarred by a kind of geographically inflected socioeconomic specificity. Such utterance hurts, it registers hurt, and it is a way of coping with that hurt just as it participates in reproducing that hurt, and it can pose a meaningful challenge to that hurt. Paradoxically, such utterance—utterance which simultaneously responds to and enables class violence—has neither any discernible cultural value nor any quantifiable market value until wrenched from the originary scene of its performance and absorbed into the larger architecture of an aesthetic undertaking that renders it somehow legible to an audience beyond the dissatisfaction and longing which compels it. But I would like to think otherwise and to understand this kind of utterance otherwise, to hear it and think it and feel it otherwise.