Poetry in First World: An April Meditation

[By Jerry W. Ward]

After Johnson Publications abruptly discontinued Black World in 1976, Hoyt W. Fuller and
others founded First World Foundation in Atlanta and began to publish First World: An International Journal of
Black Thought
.  In The Black Arts Movement (2005), James
Smethurst does not associate the demise of Black World and the birth of First World with Watergate (1974), but
future studies of African American poetry will have to account for how the
covert activities of Richard Nixon’s administration intensified divisions and
decline within the evolving of Black cultural nationalism.
Post-Civil Rights assumptions about the aesthetic function
of poetry beg to be explained within the total context of dwindling American
faith in the credibility of democracy. The “formal turn” in black poetry after
1974, even if it is considered as a pure act of language (a specialized speech
act), must be associated with a paradoxical resuscitation of faith in American
exceptionalism. I want to sell signifying 
tickets with the claim that young black poets born after 1965
consciously and unconsciously were determined in the late 1980s and early 1990s
to prove they were more quintessentially “American” in craft than other poets
in the United States, much in the fashion Ralph Ellison “proved” he was more
American than Saul Bellow.

First World’s
premier issue appeared January/February 1977. 
It is noteworthy that Fuller echoed Carter G. Woodson in the editor’s
page, that his words could have been written in January 2013:
All too often we
settle for personal “success” and “making it” as rationalization for our failure
to control the system head-on and to demand that it change to accommodate all
the people it demeans and exploits.  And
so, generation after generation, we willfully perpetuate a cycle of hope and
(3). [My italics]
Based on his prescience as the long-term editor of Negro Digest/Black World, Fuller knew
that magazines can raise consciousness but they do not destroy perpetual
cycles, because “the lords of America…have wisely learned to adjust their
procedures without disturbing the fundamental structures and thrusts of their
empires, and the calculated cooptation of selected Blacks is a minor
adjustment” (3).
Undaunted by his own pessimism, Fuller launched First World in the hope that black
writing might “give tangible support to the universal idea of respect and
self-determination for all people and all nations’ (3).  First
died with Fuller on May 11, 1981.  
This ending of one wave of modern black cultural nationalism in
poetry  is the beginning of questions
about what new missions African American poetry assumed.  We can no longer speak with certainty about
the mission of black poetry as Eugene Redmond could in Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry: A Critical History (1976).
To initiate wonderment about where we went from the final
issue of First World  (Vol. 2, No. 4, 1980) to the current Holy
Communion of prizes , I have listed the poets and poems Fuller published
between 1977 and 1980. It is important to notice from the listing which poets
have been tossed into forgetting and which ones still resonate in memory.
Vol. 1, No. 1
(January /February 1977)
Ahmos Zu-Bolton, “Struggle-Road Dance” (9)
Carolyn Rodgers, “a lament on August 15, 1968/the
anniversary of a time ignorant longing” (36)
Everett Hoagland, “Jamming” (52)
Samuel Allen, “Harriet Tubman” (57)
Zack Gilbert, “You Know Who You Are” (62)
Vol. 1, No. 2 (March/
April 1977)
June Jordan, “I Must Become a Menace To My Enemies” (10)
Peter Clarke, “The Showpiece” (10)
L. B. J. Machabane, “The Jackal and the Fox” (15)
Isaac J. Black, “Taking Precautions In The Air” (55)
Alvin Aubert, “Getting At The Beatles/ Installment I” (63)
**If anyone discovers Vol. 1, No. 3, please post the
Vol. 1, No. 4 (Winter
Kiarri T.-H. Cheatwood, “Of Love and Land” (44)
Naomi Long Madgett, “Nomen” and “Exits and Entrances” (58)
Sonia Sanchez, Five haiku (For Gwen Brooks), (58)
Etheridge Knight, “On Seeing the Black Male as #1 Sex Object
in America” (59)
Jerry Ward, “New Orleans/ French Quarter Black Mammies” (59)
Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring
Mari Evans, “On the Death of Boochie by Starvation” and
“Street Lady” (11)
Yusef Komungakaa (sic), “A Short History of Building Fences”
Frank Lamont Phillips,”Chile Lamont” (21)
Melba Joyce Boyd,”Detroit Renaissance Sin” (39)
Gladys Thomas, “Stephen Biko –September 1977” (55)
Vol. 2, No. 2 (1979)
Julia Fields, “Mr. Tut’s House: A Recollection” (38-39)