Mar 1, 2002
history, biography, memoir, and brief but incisive close readings—bespeaks a participant-celebrant’s enthusiasms, and prejudices. Although he praises contemporary African American poets Paul Beatty, Willie Perdomo, and Patricia Spears Jones for their psychological acuity and street-smarts, Thomas reductively dismisses both rap music (which ‘‘unfortunately became stuck in postures of adolescent fury’’) and poetry slams (‘‘where drunken audiences hoot down sensitive poems about dying grandmothers or inevitable divorces and bestow twenty-dollar prizes on scatological doggerel’’). Yet what could be more Afrocentric, asks poet Salaam, taking Thomas to task in a recent article on the slam scene in Black Issues Book Review, ‘‘than an emphasis on poetry’s performative aspects growing out of the oral and aural tradition?’’ Extraordinary Measures, an essential text for students of African American poetry, would have been even truer to its mission had Thomas explored the work of four-time national slam champion Patricia Smith—including the poetry workshops she holds for grieving inner-city schoolchildren—and the poetry of Mississippian Sterling Plumpp, an Afrocentric modernist whose fractured, brooding lines about Delta blues and ‘‘shadows of lynchings . . . / Hung . . . / above creation / to drip / on generations’’ perfectly exemplify Thomas’s ethos of responsibility to self, culture, and community.