The Last Poets
Jazzy Portrait of a Poetry Ensemble
In The Last Poets, Christine Otten writes about the lives of four Afro- American poets who were popular in the seventies and eighties: ‘The Last Poets’, Uman Bin Hassan, Felipe Luciano, David Nelson and Abiodun Oyewole. The author creates an extraordinarily lively image of fictionalized portraits, typed tape recordings of conversations with eyewitnesses, and lyrics / poems. Otten does not use the poems to spice up the story, rather she lets the words speak for themselves. This approach adds that shady dimension of life as it is – never really comprehensible – and against this background the texts vigorously come alive. Fiction, poetry, and documentary make for a sizzling and rhythmical mixture.
The Last Poets is about 450 pages, runs with incredible pace, and yet every sentence is to be savoured. This white female author writes sensual prose with all her senses, whether describing the crispness of white cotton shirts or the putrid smell of having sex while being intoxicated.
Quite apart from its exceptional form, style and rhythm, The Last Poets as a whole is powerful. Otten vividly conveys the unheralded heroism of the Black American male artist who has more to contend with than his white brother. ‘Fuck the race issue. I am an artist,’ Umar Bin Hassan calls out at one point, and yet, when he hears the young generation rappers use words like bitches and whores and pussy, he calls on Abiodun Oyewole and says ‘We have work to do.’
In her previous book, Christine Otten deliberately searched for a literary form that was just as significant as a pop song. With this audacious book she has succeeded in delivering a literary piece that resembles the ingenuity of a well-composed piece of music. The book throbs through your body long after you have finished reading it.