ya Salaam is best known as a member of the black arts movement. The fundamental goal of these poets is the liberation of African peoples from forms, images, and subject matters that deny them complete humanity. His poetic style is the epitome of the new black aesthetic critics of the late 1960s. His use of "linguistic liberation"—an aggressive assault upon and refashioning of the English language—attempts to make a foreign tongue speak for a group that the language has traditionally oppressed. As he says in the introduction to the unpublished A Precise Tenderness, "I am always interested in propagating and extending the African aesthetic. What makes my poetry 'Black' is much more than subject matter. World-view and structure. Tradition and innovation. Culture and consciousness. All that" (3). Primary aspects of his poetry include the narrative stream of consciousness; linguistic liberation of terms, concepts, and icons; humor/satire; the application of musical rhythms and structures in printed poetry; and didactic text. His work perpetuates the tradition of Amiri baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia sanchez, Hoyt Fuller, Larry Neal, and Etheridge knight.
Born Vallery Ferdinand III in New Orleans, his first book, The Blues Merchant: Songs for Blkfolk, was published in 1969. He is the recipient the 1995 Louisiana Literature Fellow, a 1997 Mayor Marc Morial's Arts Award, the 1998 Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Award, and a 1999 Senior Literature Fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Province-
town, Massachusetts. He has also edited some of the most important African-American journals and anthologies to date, including African American Review, 360 Degrees, and the Black Collegian.
The core of Salaams poetry is revolution. Explicit and explosive imagery drive his poetry, as he tries to shock the reader from mindless acceptance of mainstream definitions. He also uses juxtaposition, showing the irony or contradiction between verbalized principles and actualized behavior. Salaam seeks to exploit the space between the rhetorical principles and the behavior of the dominant class, which allows space for the oppressed to find their own humanity, beauty and worth. This is seen in "Words Have Meaning / But Only in Context" (1989): "All men are created equal was first said by people who owned slaves / The land of the free was stolen from the native Americans." He demonstrates that terms and meanings are arbitrary, political, and subjectively fashioned and must be manipulated to uncover our metaphoric essence through our actions. In "Sun Song XIII" (1994), he redefines beauty: Beauty is no longer in the eye of language's power brokers, but in the actions of one who is able to rise above life's oppression and grime and shine. At the center of his work is the desire to liberate people of color from a language that has been used to oppress them.
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