B Jenkins

B Jenkins

Refiguring American Music

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Book Pages: 128 Illustrations: Published: January 2010

Author: Fred Moten

American Studies, European Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Poetry

The fourth collection of poetry from the literary and cultural critic Fred Moten, B Jenkins is named after the poet’s mother, who passed away in 2000. It is both an elegy and an inquiry into many of the themes that Moten has explored throughout his career: language, music, performance, improvisation, and the black radical aesthetic and political tradition. In Moten’s verse, the arts, scholarship, and activism intertwine. Cadences echo from his mother’s Arkansas home through African American history and avant-garde jazz riffs. Formal innovations suggest the ways that words, sounds, and music give way to one another.

The first and last poems in the collection are explicitly devoted to Moten’s mother; the others relate more obliquely to her life and legacy. They invoke performers, writers, artists, and thinkers including not only James Baldwin, Roland Barthes, Frederick Douglass, Billie Holiday, Audre Lorde, Charlie Parker, and Cecil Taylor, but also contemporary scholars of race, affect, and queer theory. The book concludes with an interview conducted by Charles Henry Rowell, the editor of the journal Callaloo. Rowell elicits Moten’s thoughts on the relation of his poetry to theory, music, and African American vernacular culture.


“Fred Moten can’t stop won’t stop blurring genres, modes, lexical registers,
disciplines and the whole damn phenomenal world, in an ecstasy of creative
permission so liberating that it verges on the terrifying; this book is almost
too beautiful to read.” — Maria Damon, XCP

“Like the work of the many subjects of these poems, Moten’s latest book is a nuanced yet exhilarating avant-garde fusion of theory and improvisation.” — Lori Tsang, Multicultural Review

“Poetry as inquiry. Poetry as communication through time, space, and distance. Poetry as a collection of personal connections to people, places, memory. Poetry as elegy. Poetry as commentary. Poetry like’“riding a bus in the city.’ . . . Under the surface is a deeply intellectual inquisition, a purposeful pursuit of understanding: self, culture, family, race, people, music. It is lyrical, polysonic, fresh. Moten is both a “high” theorist and an “experimental” poet. It is poetry in relation to the world through the self. It is not just an imitation of music, but an embodiment of what is at the heart of the music in question. The essential center of it. “ — Kristina Erny, University of Arizona Poetry Center

“Riff-rattled and jack-legged, critic and poet Fred Moten conducts the ministers of the ‘Black Arts Movement,’ fusing them into an orchestral procession. . . . Not limited to inspiration from the African Diaspora, Moten calls on a polyphonic nexus of awareness. In an interview at the end, he refers to ‘radical political comportment’ as representing ‘something inextricably bound to escape, fugitivity, criminality.’ There’s no escaping the choral radiance here. — Jeffrey Cyphers Wright, Brooklyn Rail

“Fred Moten’s newest collection is a roll call, a syllabus, a discography, church. These poems are a family reunion, where relatives from different branches literally make conversation, the hard way, by creating the common language as they go. Listening in is a pleasurable challenge; to paraphrase Coltrane, what I didn’t understand, I felt emotionally. I fell in love with the table of contents and was still giddy at the final words. ‘It’s a little [less] alone.’” — Evie Shockley, Rutgers University

“If the blues is really the poetic spirit of a people, that place deep in the unconscious where emotion, dream, and intellect commingle in flammable combinations, then Fred Moten is one of the greatest bluesmen of our generation. Thank you, B. Jenkins, for the fire.” — Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original


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Fred Moten is Associate Professor of English at Duke University. He is the author of In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition and the poetry collections Hughson’s Tavern, Arkansas, and I ran from it and was still in it.

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4696-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4684-5
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