Every now and then I read a book of poetry that manages to jump out of the pages at me, pulling me into the heart of each poem and demanding that I pay attention. I mean really pay attention to what it has to say. The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, is one of those books. Edited by Kevin Coval, Quraysh Ali Lansana and Nate Marshall, this poetry collection drew me in with its raw, honest poems. It forced me to consider how ethnicity, poverty, sex, and hip-hop have affected not only the collective consciousness of twenty-first century America, but also our individual sense of place and identity.
This collection of poetry includes work by authors that span across several generations and a broad range of gender, ethnicity, income, education, and profession. The most common thread among them is that each author is somehow deeply connected to and influenced by hip-hop and all the grit that comes with it. This sentiment is strong enough to leave readers feeling like they’ve been hanging around the old, beloved wrecks of the Beat Generation, like Ginsberg or Kerouac.
Despite the amazing qualities of this book, though, there was one issue that distracted me while I read through the collection: for every few show stopping poems inside there’s one that really doesn’t reflect the same quality or depth of message as the rest. These rogue poems were disappointing and distracted from the overall cohesion of the book. And even though there are plenty of incredible pieces, there are also enough odd-man-out poems that could have been edited out, if only to better showcase the well-crafted, honest works like “When Tip Drill Comes on at the Frat Party Or When Refusing to Twerk Is a Radical Form of Self Love” by Fatimah Asghar, “Blossoms in the Dark” by Tarfia Faizulla, or “Object” by Marty McConnell.
Overall, I believe this collection of poetry is well worth reading, as well as a valuable contribution to American literature because of it relatability to younger generations. A lot of the poems use slang, ethnicity, violence, music, sex, and humor to make connect with people who grew up in the age of Hip-Hop and pop culture and who are unable to connect with traditional poetic work. Anyone looking to expand their poetic or social boundaries, or who’s simply looking for fresh, raw poetry, will love The Breakbeat Poets. Trust me, it’s worth the read.
To connect with the Breakbeat Poets, follow them on Twitter @breakbeatpoets or check out their webpage The Breakbeat Poets.