One of our readings (Kevin Young’s The Grey Album) this week came at the perfect time. It’s the perfect time because a few weeks ago I decided that I am going to explore the black vernacular for my final project for this course. Elizabeth Alexander is partly responsible for this. I’ve been reading and re-reading her essay titled, “Dunbar Lives.” She opens her essay by recalling her father reciting Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “The Party.” Dunbar writes:
DEY had a gread big pahty down to Tom’s de othah night;
Was I dah? You bet! I neveh in my life see sich a sight;
All de folks f’om fou’ plantations was invited, an’ dey come,
Dey come troopin’ thick ez chillun when dey hyeahs a fife an’ drum.
Alexander explains how she “notic[ed] and lov[ed] these shifts in diction.” She says it made her a poet. “How could I not become a poet in the midst of all that cross-pollinating American English?” she questions.
I want to capture the black vernacular in my work because of its rawness, rarity and realness. Period.
Now, back to Young.
Oh, but first let me go to David Shield’s review of The Grey Album. Remember: I’m interested in the black vernacular so I pulled from the paragraph that hits on the language.
The party is on, but it’s deadly serious. The curatorial trickster claims American language as black music. “At our peril we ignore the fact that black vernacular, like the blues, both has a form and performs. . . . For just as there would be no American music without black folks, there would be very little of our American language.” The mask drops; Young exercises power. “It is black culture that is the dominant culture. English broken here.” This Young is a musician with muscle.
You see. The black vernacular is music. It is everything! I have to capture it. I have so many folks around me who know how to fall in and out of the vernacular and every time it happens I am fascinated. My friends are always asking me to write poems, “Just like we talk!” I’m on it!
Young writes about “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang. He notes:
“Rapper’s Delight” the very song that named hip-hop remains fascinating, necessary, and at times great — especially when you want to fill the dance floor. At fourteen minutes and thirty-eight seconds the long version contains a cohort of black speech acts. Not only does it rely on play for play’s sake (as in the very phrase “hip hop hippity-hop”), the song makes use of old-fashioned storytelling; braggadocio and its opposite, ritual dissing à la the dozens; folk rhymes and folktales; talking blues; pure sound and wordplay; chant; the whole host of storying.
To close out this blog I want to give you a sneak peek into my attempt to follow behind the writing footsteps of Sugarhill Gang, Dunbar, Young and countless other black writers who know how to beautifully capture the black vernacular.
Young’s The Grey Album feels like a tour of black music. I’m after creating poems that will take readers on a tour of black talk.
“One Black Girl to Another Black Girl”
dhat’s crazy, yo, how you talk like a white girl an u from duh hood!
i b thinkin’ u gone say sumthin like a wreal black girl cuz u b wearin’ big ole hoop earrings
but u don’t. nawh. u talk jus like a white girl.
Niggas be on Miles
Poppin’ wheelies on
Four wheelers n’ shit