Asili Ya Nadhiri’s Digital Poetry and Performance

After both reading and listening to Nadhiri’s tonal drawing “wandering here in this dark where it eating up the light” (, I observed: 
This double-voiced rendering of the tonal drawing is an example of what might occur when a poem escapes the prison of print and page and becomes an item in digital poetry. In a traditional live reading, it would not be possible to have the overlay of sound without the help of some time-delay mechanism. This digital tonal drawing allows us to hear subtle differences in emphasis of inflections in voice 1 and voice 2 as well as echoing that produces a state of “rendered-ing” or “rendering-ed.” Nadhiri’s conceptualization sends us to performance theory to find language to discuss self-reflexive echoes.

Good models for such language abound in Black Performance Theory (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), edited by Thomas F. DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez.
Nadhiri replied on his website  to the observation on July 25, 2015 at 10:21 p.m. —“Jerry, you are making me consider extending this manner of expression more presently.” My observation was concerned with poetry and physics, but Nadhiri’s email to me (also July 25) redirected me to philosophy and poetry. He had written that “perhaps the form birthing in ‘wandering here in this dark…’ might be suggesting one in which the universality impliciting in my latter work might be made more expliciting.” This remark seems related to a thesis Reginald Martin and  I will elaborate in our book Words and Being: Although common sense is not immune to deconstructive critiques, it is our most powerful tool in efforts to minimize confusion in studies of African American and American cultures and cultural expressions.

Martin and I are not philosophers, but the thesis will make our book philosophical by accident, especially in our commentary on poetry. Nadhiri’s proposition regarding form coming into being can be shifted from the conditional to the declarative. The aesthetic impact of his tonal drawing is present progressively universal, and it is an occasion for grasping uncommon knowledge. In its digital manifestation, a tonal drawing can initiate deep, common sense thinking about why innovation in African American poetry matters as we perform literary and social positions.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.   July 26, 2015