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My writing as a poet has been heavily influenced by writers like Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Alice Walker and Slam poets such as Black Thought and the Last Poets. These writers write and speak about the struggles and uniqueness of Black culture. Their individual experiences and political stances as well as the influences of other artist are evident in their work. For example in Giovanni’s poem “Revolutionary Music” she quotes some of the lyrics from Sam Cooke and James Brown to illustrate her personal views on racism and the equal rights movements. Hughes in his piece titled “Message to the President” skillfully incorporates the political events of his time into his poem using it to sardonically articulate his view on racial inequalities that were occurring in his time. Black Thought and the Last Poets utilize jazz and urban hip hop along with their idea of Black to relay their message.
In writing my individual poems, I find it difficult not to incorporate the style of the writers mentioned. I gained my consciousness of Black culture and struggle through the words of these writers their ideas have no choice but to be reflected in my own writing. I wrote a piece titled “Books not Bombs” which originated during the time the troops were being sent to Iraq to fight a war that was unnecessary in my opinion. The students at my high school and schools around the city were walking out of class to protest in city hall; however, we were told that we would be suspended by the principal if we left. I felt that the administration was silencing our voices by holding us with the threat of suspension. In this poem I used a line from a local pop song from the group OutKast, “They’re throwing bombs over Baghdad, but what about the bombs that are exploding right here, right now…” Using this mimics Giovanni and Hughes’ incorporation of musical lyrics of the time to make the piece relatable to the intended audience. I was also influenced by the social political climate that was being hotly debated at the time (war). My particular social influence is reflective of Robert P. Yagelski’s essay “Who’s Afraid of Subjectivity”. In his essay he used Donald Murray’s experience of writing and rewriting his piece which was reflective of his war years and the political controversy of his time. “…which provided impetus to write the poem and helped and helped shape the very content of the poem.
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One of the most recent poems that I have written was greatly influenced by what I see in my community, in school and in the underlying political messages that are not articulated by the authority; people who have the power to inflict change on a mass scale; example, politicians and teachers. The idea steamed from a conversation that I had with a White female who used the word Ghetto to describe a Black female that was standing at the light with two children wearing what appeared to be a work overcoat. I explained to her that the term Ghetto meant that this women might be a victim to welfare, she might be permanently molded into public housing, her meager check goes from hand to mouth, at times there may be no food to eat and her children are growing up in a scenery of violence and the poverty of living in the slums of the city. After I articulated to her what the term Ghetto meant to a struggling single parent Black female, I went home and put my pen to paper. “Yo! That’s like so…so Ghetto.” I used her exact words to begin my poem, along with the images from a news paper article written in the Metro stating the statistics of the young lives lost to violent crimes. I made reference to my personal experiences and observations of what a single mother has to suffer through, “ they say who feels its knows it…have you ever felt the hunger pains of the working single Black mother who cries at night because her babies are cold and screaming…” My use of Intertextuality is clearly evident within these lines; I used social and personal events of my time along with commonly used clichés to help utilize Nancy Sommers’ morphed theory on using authority “…to use them and make them anew…by confronting these authorial voices, I find the power to understand and gain access to my own ideas” (29). The authority in my piece is evident with the use of quotes from the News paper and personal contact with the Ghetto life. Instead of restating a common theme found in Black literature, I used that influence to help me formulate my own words and ideas about Black struggle.
This particular poem is not made up of other text directly; however, it does illustrate traces of influence from the delivery style used by Black Thought and the Last Poets. Their use of jazz and sing-song conveyance is evident when in my piece when it is recited. I used the concept from one of the Last Poets’ recital; the piece was titled “America is a Terrorist.” This piece highlights Black struggle in White America and the effects of Black on Black crime. “In other words the self that defines “me” is socially constituted self, and the social and cultural aspects of that self may have much more to do with how I write and some set of cognitive skills” (29). Yagelski’s quote solidifies the fact that the writer does not and cannot write without being directly or indirectly influenced by other writers and the social times. His quote also reflects how I cannot see myself as the isolated writer that creates original ideas. This single quote shows my writing becomes a product of borrowed subjects that I use to recreate the original ideas while forming by adding my experiences.
The fact that I use other writers and social influences in my writing does not indicate that there is some sort of dual ownership because like me, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni and the earlier mentioned artist were all influenced by their contemporaries. If writing ownership is being questioned, is it fair to say that we all are some how plagiarizing? I think that it is impossible to write without allowing our personal views, biases, experiences and social influences to seep into to pages. In terms of my individual ownership I know that what I have written is mine, but in the same token I have to acknowledge that I have been influenced by other writers. If these writers did not exist (along with their work) I would not know how and what context to write on; to be honest I probably would not be in the major that I am in and writing as a passion would be non-existent in my world view.
If we are to question the individual ownership of every writer we would all be seen a plagiarist. As artist and professionals, borrowing ideas and using them to form your own world view in text cannot be wrong and should not be challenged. Can we really imagine writing as it is today without the content and influence from other writers along with the social and political climate of the time? Where would the writer then receive the incentive to write? Would discourse be the same if the writer was not a social being that is influenced? Within writing I think that the writer’s originality comes from what is identified is personal and individual to them. The experiences that show up on the page are personal a unique to the writer and that in my opinion is where a personal stamp of ownership can be administered to the art.
Giovanni, Nikki. Selected poems of Nikki Giovanni . New York: Marrow, 1996
Hughes, Langston. The collected poems of Langston Hughes. Ed. Arnold Rampersad. New York: Vintage, 1994.
Sommers, Nancy. “Between the Drafts”. College Composition and Communication. Vol.43. Okalahoma: 1992.
Yagelski, Robert. “Who’s Afraid of subjectivity?: The composing process and postmodernism or a student of Donald Murray enters the age of postmodernism”. Taking Stock: The writing movement in the 90’s. Ed. Lad Tobin. New Hampshire: Heinemann.