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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution II

Chapman, Abraham
Editorial comment: black poetry today,   pp. 401-[410] PDF (9.1 MB)

Page 404

404       the overtones of artistic expression and that
there is often more of race in its sublimations
than in its crude repertorial expression.
In an essay in Ebony and Topaz, one of the
two major collections of Negro writing of
the Harlem Renaissance, the sociologist
E. Franklin Frazier stressed that "the
racial experience of the Negro was unique
because of historical and social factors
rather than of biological inheritance."
Citing James Weldon Johnson's volume of
verse God's Trombones as an example of
"the unique contribution of the Negro
artists" Frazier went on to say:
In this unique work of art he has used the
literary language of America to give artistic
expression to the racial experience of the
Negro in America. Whatever of racial
temperament there is in these poems has
been made articulate through cultural forms
which were acquired by the artist in America.
The polarity of being both black and
American, what W. E. B. DuBois described as
the "twoness' of the American Negro,
contributes to the complexity of American
Negro poetry. Black poets have assimilated
the entire heritage of literature in English
and world literature. Black poets write in
the most diverse styles and modes of
expression. The poetry of M. B. Tolson and
Gwendolyn Brooks, (the only Negro writer
to win a Pulitzer Prize) shows clearly that
the two poets have drawn upon the
Eliot-Pound modernist tradition for their
different needs and different ways of
expressing racial sensibilities and themes.
Bob Kaufman is a black poet who has been
associated with Lawrence Ferlinghetti and
Allen Ginsberg and has voiced his black
experience as part of the Beat movement.
LeRoi Jones established his reputation
as one of the most prominent avant-garde
poets of the 50's before he entered his
later development as a poet of black
consciousness and sensibility. The whole
range of modern poetic expression, from the
modernist and allusive and highly
intellectual to folk expression and free
verse and jazz and blues rhythms, from the
highly formal and academic to the
experimental and underground, is part of
the literary consciousness and background
of the black poets.
But that is only part of the total picture.
The most original of the black poets,
employing the American language, have
created distinctive forms of their own
drawing simultaneously upon the black
cultural and the American literary heritage.
Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown
pioneered in this, in different ways, in their
poetry. Looking back at the life work of
Hughes in a recent memorial tribute, Arna
Bontemps noted that Hughes gave "soul"
its special connotation "indicating a kind of
'Negro' quality in certain areas of American
self-expression and culture." And James
A. Emanuel, a contemporary black poet,
educator, and author of Langston Hughes
(1967), the Twayne Series book-length study
of the poet, identified the special quality
of Hughes as "American Negritude," an
American counterpart of African Negritude.
It is Emanuel's view that "if American
Negritude can be tentatively defined as that
complex of traits, sensibilities, and
historical consciousness peculiar to black
Americans, a study of Hughes's poetry alone
can yield to the outline of the concept."
American Negritude may involve traits,
sensibilities, and consciousness regardless
of the form in which they are expressed,
but for Hughes and other black poets it also
involved a constant search for new forms
of poetic expression which would
incorporate idioms of speech of black
people and rhythms of spirituals, blues
and jazz. This is one aspect of the concept
"black aesthetic" young black writers are
now employing. Hughes experimented with
this all his life and achieved distinctive
rhythmic patterns of his own as can be
seen in this conclusion of "Children's
Rhymes," one of the poems in his striking
Montage of a Dream Deferred cycle:
What's written down
for white folks
ain't for us a-tall
"Liberty And Justice-
Huh - For All."
Skee! Daddle-de-do!
Salt' pea nuts!
Many young black poets are experimenting
with newer and more involved jazz forms
than Hughes's and have turned to Afro-
American music as an aesthetic source of
formal influence as well as a subject, as can
be seen in this poem by S. E. Anderson

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