Writer and educator Chinaka Hodge has a rangy history with hip-hop and spoken word. She’s been involved with Youth Speaks/The Living Word Project for over a decade and is a co-founder of The Getback, a hip-hop ensemble that includes “Hamilton” star Daveed Diggs. “Dated Emcees” is Hodge’s second book of poetry.
Catch Hodge reading from “Dated Emcees” at Women and Children First on Wednesday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m.
The name is a double entendre. Hodge speaks of dating emcees, “no jazz men left: i date emcees,” and dated emcees, “washed up / rappers, finger-dead can holders, uprocking on / inflamed knees, asking what to do with the next decade . . .”
She states her claim in the space of words and beats with lines that require being read out loud, like the beginning of “the ballad of Hollywood”:
Court, my brother, per judge order, sports
a crisp button-up to anger management
at browns mill rec every other friday and
since the money spent figures shit
he oughta get an evening out, too.
Rap and hip-hop culture weave themselves through the collection: paying homage in lush lyrical language to Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, she writes about being a groupie, sex on a tour bus, holding hands with an engaged rapper, a poem from Drake’s perspective, and a biting piece about rape that refers to Mystikal.
Hodge also writes about violence, identity, and love.
“the corner,” about a young man named javon who wants to learn to read, speaks of the violence of the streets:
i love. i like Greenfield. he marveled at my index
finger. which touched the pages but drew no sound
from his mouth. i’d point at a word. wait. make him
put the sound together. eventually.
Eloise seeped slowly out from the under his loose
bicuspid. magic, he say.
i ask him why —no— what he scared to love.
he’d saya lot of things,
a whole lot of things.
Identity and violence go hand in hand as a girl at a nail salon with “the smell of acrylic acetone and fried hair” “has managed to stay alive in the face of all things designed to kill her,” and “all of LA county tells her to hush the outfit, her choice of music, her gum pop is the subtle compromise between silence and homicide.”
And, finally, these are poems about love. Friendship and family are here, but the strongest themes speak of romantic love including, of course, lust and sex.
Love, depicted by Hodge in not always straightforward terms, is not meaningless because it’s mysterious or messy; it is cryptic, poignant, painful (even antsy) and beautiful.
Two of my own “I’ve been there” lines:
sometimes i confuse my loneliness for his affection.
i don’t mind if we use the tip of your tongue
to push thoughts back into my mouth
If you’re at all like me, these poems will woo you, leave you fluttering and pondering, saddened by, touched by, and in love with the world of this poet.