Recently I found myself on the verge of crossing over from ambivalence into guilt due to the amount of time and creative energy devoted this year to online journalism and other forms of prose-writing as opposed to a more luxurious immersion into the rich flow of poem-making. There were actually at least two instances in 2012 when I managed to combine the genres: the first came in February when writing about the death of Whitney Houston and the second came, ironically enough, in August when writing about the life of one Michael Joseph Jackson.
Although the poems included with the stories can stand well enough on their own, the fact that they were generated by journalistic concerns instead of employed as an initial means to a necessary end in themselves made me feel somewhat negligent. After all, where journalism was concerned I had written stories on a variety of topics ranging from the creative arts to political battles. And I had even launched two major series projects–– Paradigm Dancing and Guerrilla Decontextualization.
Maybe remorse had crept up on me because in the beginning of my breath-taking literary adventures poetry had been my first great love and journalism a secondary acquired passion. An early reading of essays by Albert Camus, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin had hinted at the possibility of a sustainable marriage between the two.
This being the year America decides whether or not its first black president has earned enough love, trust, and respect to grant him a second term, failing to address the political dynamics of the hour journalistically has not proven a viable historical option. Therefore, I eventually arrived at that precipice of doubt and anxiety where I could hear poetry weeping that I had abandoned it while journalism proudly gloated over its ostensible dominance. Had I been writing political poems––such as Claude McKay’s commanding “If We Must Die” or W.H. Auden’s “Spain 1937”–– I likely would not have experienced this crisis of literary conscience.
Then, looking back over some of the articles’ titles, I stopped at Poetics of Paradigm Dancing in the 2012 Presidential Election Campaign. Out of my natural tendency to bend and mix literary genres the way visual artists sometimes combine compositional media, I apparently had not abandoned poetry at all. In one sense I had suffused a number of articles with it, through titles and narrative text alike, and thereby expanded journalism’s capacity for enhanced creativity. Doing so had not only enriched ––as I practiced it––journalism’s ability to communicate the mundane with stylistic appeal. It had also increased the number and variety of venues in which poetry might be regularly featured in a manner that demonstrated its marvelous and flexible utility. Moreover, it expanded considerably the potential audience for such work.
In the end, journalism had presented itself as a metaphorical framework for poetry-- and poetry had allowed its use as an elegant canvas for journalism. Each clarified and intensified the meaning of the other, which perhaps is exactly what writing of intended significance in any form should do.
author of Visions of a Skylark Dressed in Black
and co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.