[Milton-L] Re: Books, documents and texts

BlevinsJake at aol.com BlevinsJake at aol.com
Mon Dec 13 19:24:26 EST 2004

I would agree that the only proper analysis of rap's significance would come 
through a thorough knowledge of it. In case it is of interest to anyone, I 
have pasted a few paragraphs below by Dana Gioia (poet, critic, opera writer, and 
the current Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts), who offers some 
interesting observations. The essay, "Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of 
Print Culture," is from the 55th anniversary addition of The Hudson Review; the 
entire essay can be accessed at this web address: 


"Without doubt the most surprising and significant development in recent 
American poetry has been the wide-scale and unexpected reemergence of popular 
poetry — namely rap, cowboy poetry, poetry slams, and certain overtly accessible 
types of what was once a defiantly avant-garde genre, performance poetry. These 
new forms of popular verse have seemingly come out of nowhere to become 
significant forces in American culture. Rap especially has become ubiquitous in our 
society — not only filling concert halls and radio programming but also heard 
and seen in films, television, and live theater. Although far less 
commercial, the other forms have also shown enormous vitality. And all these new poetic 
forms have thrived without the support of the university or the literary 
In a literary culture that during most of the twentieth century declared 
verse a dying technique, no one would have predicted this vastly popular revival. 
In ways that Edmund Wilson could never have foreseen, verse has changed into a 
growth industry, though its rehabilitation has happened mostly off the 
printed page. Whatever one thinks of the artistic quality of these new poetic forms, 
one must concede that at the very least they reassuringly demonstrate the 
abiding human need for poetry. Please note that while admiring the energy of the 
revival, I do not maintain that these new forms of popular verse represent the 
best new poetry of the period. Individually considered as works of literary 
art, most of this work is undistinguished or worse, though some of it is smart 
and lively. Collectively, however, the work has enormous implications for the 
future of poetry. Not only does it call into question many contemporary 
assumptions about the current state of poetry; the new popular poetry also reflects 
the broad cultural forces that are now reshaping all the literary arts.
While the new popular poetry has received immense coverage from the 
electronic media and general press, it has garnered relatively little attention from 
intellectuals and virtually none from established poetry critics. One can 
understand the reluctance of academic critics. If they have noticed the new popular 
poetry at all, they immediately see how little it has in common with the kinds 
of poetry they have been trained to consider worthy of study. It does not 
grow out of the long esteemed and meticulously studied high-art traditions of 
Classicism, Romanticism, Modernism, or Postmodernism that inform most literary 
scholarship. In fact, in general terms it hardly seems to connect to any 
conventional academic notion of literary poetry. What is a conscientious critic 
supposed to do with an Eminem or Jay-Z? As individual texts for analysis, Snoop 
Dogg's "Doggy Style" or Wallace McRae's "The Cowboy Curmudgeon" offer a Harold 
Bloom or Helen Vendler little opportunity to display their critical chops.
Meanwhile, mass media coverage of the new popular poetry has focused on what 
it usually does — celebrities, their astonishing triumphs, their regrettable 
falls, and their eye-popping annual incomes. In the electronic media, all 
stories tend to be reduced to personality and human drama — to the people, that is, 
who can actually be shown or heard on the air. The limited commentary on the 
new popular poetry provided in the mass media by intellectuals has habitually 
focused on ideological issues, especially in the case of rap, which has been 
examined almost entirely for its subject matter or sociological significance.
>From a poet's perspective, however, both the mass media and the culture 
critics miss the most interesting aspects of the new popular poetry, which is not 
the extravagant personalities of its creators or the sociological nature of its 
contents; rather, it is the unusual mixture of radical innovation and 
unorthodox traditionalism in the structure of the work itself and the modes of its 
performance, transmission, and reception. These aspects reveal deep and 
influential changes in American literary culture that show more about the current 
situation of poetry than any number of more academically fashionable subjects."

In a message dated 12/13/2004 6:09:23 PM Central Standard Time, birish at bu.edu 
I'm curious: to those who are inclined to dismiss the poetic value of rap,
how much time have you devoted to its study and analysis?

Would you allow a student to similarily dismiss an entire genre--say, for 
example, the 17th century lyric--after a comparable investigation?

> Very interesting post. Aesthetic categories are at bottom social 
> categories. The exclusion of rap lyrics prima facie from the category of 
> poetry says a lot about what that category means in our society. We could 
> define it as what black youth aren't writing/listening to.
> To argue that rap lyrics ARE
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