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Conceptual Poetics: Tracie Morris
Tracie Morris “Black conceptual poetics: examples for crafting”
(presented at Conceptual Poetry and Its Others Conference, University of Arizona, Tucson)
Tracie Morris states that “I hope that, by bringing the sonic, political and creative sensibilities, we can, as embracers of experimentation and variety, assert this as a critical component of American conceptual poetics through found art, uncreative writing, transgressions through otherness as well as conventional writing practice and utterance.”
Morris examined how Black poetics undermines notions of typification based on the initially non-human status of Black standing in the Americas, in particular, by means of creativity in Black speech as code. Black code is continuously constructed and assimilated through American identity, it is at once a fixed and fluid medium. Morris noted that one way this is negotiated in African American contexts is through the humorization of Black misery.
Morris then discussed the Ring Shout as being both multidisciplinary and “performative.” Shouting performances incorporate dance (the ring shout), singing and music in a quasi-ritual context, using grammatical codification as codes for survival.
She claims that “There are two issues being presented here. One of African linguistic traits interfacing with the everyday language of Standard American English, the other of encoded meaning within the speech that has an entirely different significance… Gatherings by the enslaved were codified so in many instances.”
A more focused discussion of language ensued with the 1980s occurrences of “Yo” and “mira” that were practically synonyms in the coagulated lingua franca of Brooklyn streets. Morris discussed how language Caribbeanisms from English-speaking nations and other cultural elements from the French Caribbean also became part of the mainstream African American landscape.
What followed was a look at musical artists who emphasized the relationship between uttered sound and music as performative utterance. This flow in Hip Hop is conveyed through the artists’ use of assonance, consonance, internal rhyme, speed, shifting of metrical stresses and creative uses of language. Examples were provided by Rakim and Missy Elliott.
Morris summed up her talk by commenting that the intersection of African American poetic presentations in the context of popular song was compelled by a coded survival strategy and is now an established aesthetic.