A poet wonders (on my phone):
do words "sign" the poet, Black?
Is there a dead-give-away vocabulary,
marking "us"? A blacker ink (so to speak):
in collard greens, black eye peas, yams, Aretha
singing mary don't you weep, fried chicken,
watermelon, cornbread, & pig feet?
Oreos. (not the snack — but that black vernacular marker with
time/date stamp.) Hot comb. Kinks. (Any proprietary hair lingo:
afro puffs, dreads, locks, cornrows — black hair slanders
(which won't be perpetuated in this poem!) Cadillacs (pink).
And Blues (as in "the blues" even if white folks have them.)
All blues artists, beginning with Ma Rainey and Robert
Johnson at the crossroad asking the devil for directions.
The word: Ghetto (after 1945). Booty (see: the black
female body — even if all women have them). Emphatic
end rhymes (blame the hip hop poem). Malcolm,
Martin and Angela Davis. Charlie Parker ("The Bird"
is proprietary). Any Black jazz artist. Africa ("One World").
Doubledutch (one word). Shackles.
My poet friend wants to know if blackness is in the words,
Or unremarkable. I don't tell her
these questions "mark" her. (Who else would worry
about word visibility, invisibility?) I don't ask
the burning question (...a cliché with a double entendre
tucked inside): are Black poets really free if words "blacklist,"
if words "out" us as who we are or have been or were said to be?
Is, I want to know, a Black poet's use of "call and response" words
different from a white poet alluding to Dickinson or Donne?
And what of the Black poets who allude to Eliot or Burns?
Poetic Uncle Tomming? (Uncle Toms — another "out" terminology
even if white folks sometimes have uncles named Tom) or are they
signifying their asses off?
Opal Moore is the author of Lot's Daughters (2005). Her fiction and poetry have appeared in journals and anthologies including: The Notre Dame Review, Callaloo, The Connecticut Review, and the video recording, Trouble and Hope: An Anthology of Poets in Performance and Conversation.
Moore's suite of poems, "The Children of Middle Passage," was developed as a performance art project with painter Arturo Lindsay and jazz saxophonist Joe Jennings. The performance is discussed in Noplaceness: Art in a Post-Urban Landscape (2011), essays by Atlanta art critics Cinque Hicks, et. al.
Moore is an Associate Professor of English teaching fiction and poetry writing, and African American literature at Spelman College. She is a Fulbright Scholar, a Cave Canem Fellow, a Dupont Scholar, and Bellagio Fellow. She served as a 2008 McEvers Chair in Creative Writing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her essay on 20th century African American poetry is included in the Cambridge History of African American Literature (2011).