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This book studies how four representative African American poets of the 1960s, Langston Hughes, Umbra’s David Henderson, and the Black Arts Movement’s Sonia Sanchez, and Amiri Baraka engage, in the tradition of griots, in poetic dialogues with aesthetics, music, politics, and Black History. In so doing they narrate, using jazz as meta-language, genealogies, etymologies, cultural legacies, and Black (hi)stories. In intersecting and complementary ways, Hughes, Henderson, Sanchez, and Baraka fashioned their griotism from theorizations of artistry as political engagement, and, in turn, formulated a Black aesthetic based on jazz performativity—on a series of jazz-infused iterations that form a complex pattern of literary, musical, historical, and political moments in constant cross-fertilizing dialogues with one another. This form of poetic call-and-response becomes a definitional literary template for these poets, as it allows both the possibility of intergenerational dialogues between poets and musicians and dialogic potential between song and politics, between Africa and Black America, between vernacular continuums, in their poems.
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Jean-Philippe Marcoux is a professor of American Literature at Université Laval in Quebec, Canada. He specializes in African American Literature, Postmodernist fiction and poetry, and in Jazz Studies.Review:
Marcoux's study of African American poetics in the 1960s is interesting and scrupulous in its scholarship. Marcoux (American literature, Université Laval, Quebec, Canada) employs the vocabulary of current critical discourse starting with the introduction, "Intravernacular Dialogues, Jazz Performativity, and the Griot's Meta-Linguistic Praxes." It is amusing to see beneath this title a short epigraph: "The rhythm of life / is a jazz rhythm." Linguistic contrasts of this kind abound; whereas the subject is poetry rooted in folk tradition, the discussion is largely academic. The author discusses in depth exemplary figures central in the emergent revolutionary poetry of African Americans in the 1960s--Langston Hughes, Sonia Sanchez, Amiri Baraka, and David Henderson. He also considers Nikki Giovanni and Larry Neal along with "free jazz." ...Unique for its coverage of a single decade, this volume can be read in tandem with Meta DuEwa Jones's The Muse Is Music (CH, Dec'11, 49-1920) and Tyler Hoffman's American Poetry in Performance (CH, May'12, 49-4915). Marcoux's book is an important addition to this growing field. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. (CHOICE)
While the role of the griot is often noted in studies of Black Arts poetry, no book has concentrated so intensively and persuasively on the importance of this role for African American poetry as Jazz Griots. . . .If Marcoux’s musicological and historical expertise in jazz studies makes this study of Hughes, Henderson, Sanchez, and Baraka so rewarding, the intergenerational dialogue that he accentuates is also suggestive for reconsidering the significance of jazz in African American—and African diasporic—literature beyond the 1960s. (Twentieth-Century Literature)
Marcoux’s book performs deft readings of works by Langston Hughes (whose formally experimental collection Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz is from 1961), David Henderson (the Umbra poet who collaborated with Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman), Sanchez (who, we are reminded, is the daughter of a drummer), and Baraka. (American Literature)
It is fitting that Jean-Philippe Marcoux’s own prose is nearly as lyrical as the poets he addresses in this thoughtful, penetrating and engaging study of the griots of the 1960s revolution. The movement, Marcoux suggests, was about vernacular sound as much as it was about words and intent, and he seems to have used that same approach himself to discuss the work of these important poets: he carefully unpacks the poetry of Hughes, Henderson, Sanchez, and Baraka in a voice that swings of its own accord. The result is a book that is both pleasurable and informative. Jazz Griots not only responds to the call of previous books about jazz and poetry, but will likely stand as a statement that must itself be responded to by poetry theorists of the future. (Bertram D. Ashe, University of Richmond)
'This is not a book about the Black Arts Movement.' How true! Knowing full well the ground that’s been covered, Jean-Philipe Marcoux takes readers into uncharted territory. Langston Hughes, David Henderson, Sonia Sanchez, and Amiri Baraka are, Marcoux insists provocatively, jazz artists. Poetry is their instrument. Like modern-day griots, these 20th and 21st century 'prophets of the planet' sing to each other across pages, across time, to enact a vibrant and dissident black history. Fairly humming with passion and originality, Jazz Griots is the kind of book you talk to, marvel at and argue with. It will talk back. (Daniel Kane, Reader in American Literature, School of English, University of Sussex)
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