Typography, however, was important. In the work of the best poets, typography showed readers the mechanism of “taking the poem off the page.” To anyone familiar with Olson’s Projective Verse, the text of Sonia Sanchez’s “Queens of the Universe” functions precisely as a score. The poem as printed indicates exactly how Sanchez performs it and how it should be read:

[excerpt from Sanchez’s “Queens of the Universe”]

Similarly, John Amini’s text (justified left to right, set in lower case) instructs and allows the reader to reproduce breathless, exasperated voice:

[excerpt from Amini’s poetry]

A poem such as Askia Muhammad Touré’s “Transcendental Vision: Indigo” indicates through typography a sense of how the poet intends it to sound. The typographical method employed functions as punctuation and reveals the poem’s grammatical structure:

[excerpt from Touré’s “Transcendental Vision: Indigo”]

Here Touré describes the aesthetic goal of Black Arts music and poetry: an attempt to recreate in modern modes the ancestral role of the African griots, the poets, musicians, and dancers whose songs record genealogies and the cosmologies of societies such as the Wolof and Mandinka. It is worth noting that most of those who have heard Touré read compare his style of declamation with that of the traditional black southern preachers, who also inspired James Weldon Johnson’s God’s Trombones (1927), one of the true masterpieces of the Harlem Renaissance and a pioneering attempt to present African American vernacular speech using the techniques of Modernist poetry.

Lorenzo Thomas