The Black poet's cultural identity - FANT IV
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The Black poet's cultural identity - FANT IV

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A lecture contrasting American Black Poets Hughes and Cullen and where they chose to receive inspiration for their unique and contrary styles. ...

A lecture contrasting American Black Poets Hughes and Cullen and where they chose to receive inspiration for their unique and contrary styles.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Anderson, Jervis. “Keats in Harlem.” Rev. of My Soul’s High Song: The collected Writings of Countee Cullen. by Gerald L. Early. New Republic 8 April 1991: 27-33. http://search.epnet.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=12082745 (19 April 2006).
Bolden, Tony. Afro-Blue: Improvisations in African American Poetry and Culture. Chicago: University of Illinois, 2004.
“Countee Cullen.” Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Black Poets of the Twenties. Ed. Countee Cullen. New York: Citadel, 1993. 179.
Cullen, Countee. ”Yet Do I Marvel” The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. Ed. Jahan Ramazani, Richard Ellmann, and Robert O’Clair. 3rd edition. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2003. 2 vols. 727.
---. ”Incident.” The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. Ed. Jahan Ramazani, Richard Ellmann, and Robert O’Clair. 3rd edition. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2003. 2 vols. 728.
Hughes, Langston. “Goodbye Christ.” The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Ed. Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel. New York: Random House, 1994. 166-7.
---. “Dream Boogie.” The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Ed. Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel. New York: Random House, 1994. 388.
---. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Ed. Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel. New York: Random House, 1994. 23.
Perkins, David. A History of Modern Poetry: Modernism and After. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987.
Primeau, Ronald. “Countee Cullen and Keats’s ‘Vale of Soul-Making.’” Papers on Language and Literature 12.1 (1976): 73-86. http://search.epnet.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=7727016 (19 April 2006).
Ramazini, Jahan. Richard Ellmann, Robert O’Clair. Eds. The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. 3rd edition. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2003. 2 vols.
Rampersad, Arnold and David Roessel, eds. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. New York: Knopf, 2001.
Whitted, Qiana. “In my Flesh I Will See God.” African American Review 28.3 (2004): 379-393 http://search.epnet.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=16342676 (19 April 2006).

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  • Allusions to classic mythology
  • Allusions to classic mythology

The Black poet's cultural identity - FANT IV The Black poet's cultural identity - FANT IV Presentation Transcript

  • The Black Poet’s Cultural Identity Marshall A. Fant IV
  • Introduction Harlem in the 1920’s Considered the “densest, and most socially vibrant black urban community in America” (Anderson). Birthplace of the “Harlem Renaissance” Significant Poets Countee Cullen Langston Hughes Jean Toomer Jessie Fauset Gwendolyn Bennett Claude McKay
  • Cullen and Hughes a comparison
  • Countee Cullen
  • Countee Cullen Only “renaissance” poet to have spent his childhood in Harlem Importance of language as a connection with the past “Negro poets, dependent as they are on the English language, may have more to gain from the rich background of English and American poetry than from any nebulous atavistic yearnings toward an African inheritance” (Cullen in Caroling Dusk, a collection of poems, page xi)
  • Countee Cullen Only “renaissance” poet to have spent his childhood in Harlem Importance of language as a connection with the past “Negro poets, dependent as they are on the English language, may have more to gain from the rich background of English and American poetry than from any nebulous atavistic yearnings toward an African inheritance” (Cullen in Caroling Dusk, a collection of poems, page xi)
  • Countee Cullen (cont’d) Importance of Language (cont’d) Insisted he was a black man writing verse and not a distinctly “Negro poet.” Used Keats as “his chief ‘poetic model’” (Primeau 74). Demonstration of style “Yet Do I Marvel”
  • Yet Do I Marvel I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind, And did he stoop to quibble could tell why The little buried mole continues blind, Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die, Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus To struggle up a never-ending stair. Inscrutable His ways are, and immune To catechism by a mind too strewn With petty cares to slightly understand What awful brain compels His awful hand. Yet do I marvel at this curious thing: To make a poet black, and bid him sing!
  • Yet Do I Marvel I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind, And did he stoop to quibble could tell why The little buried mole continues blind, Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die, Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus To struggle up a never-ending stair. Inscrutable His ways are, and immune To catechism by a mind too strewn With petty cares to slightly understand What awful brain compels His awful hand. Yet do I marvel at this curious thing: To make a poet black, and bid him sing!
  • Yet Do I Marvel I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind, And did he stoop to quibble could tell why The little buried mole continues blind, Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die, Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus To struggle up a never-ending stair. Inscrutable His ways are, and immune To catechism by a mind too strewn With petty cares to slightly understand What awful brain compels His awful hand. Yet do I marvel at this curious thing: To make a poet black, and bid him sing!
  • Yet Do I Marvel I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind, And did he stoop to quibble could tell why The little buried mole continues blind, Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die, Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus To struggle up a never-ending stair. Inscrutable His ways are, and immune To catechism by a mind too strewn With petty cares to slightly understand What awful brain compels His awful hand. Yet do I marvel at this curious thing: To make a poet black, and bid him sing!
  • Yet Do I Marvel I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind, And did he stoop to quibble could tell why The little buried mole continues blind, Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die, Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus To struggle up a never-ending stair. Inscrutable His ways are, and immune To catechism by a mind too strewn With petty cares to slightly understand What awful brain compels His awful hand. Yet do I marvel at this curious thing: To make a poet black, and bid him sing!
  • Yet Do I Marvel I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind, And did he stoop to quibble could tell why The little buried mole continues blind, Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die, Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus To struggle up a never-ending stair. Inscrutable His ways are, and immune To catechism by a mind too strewn With petty cares to slightly understand What awful brain compels His awful hand. Yet do I marvel at this curious thing: To make a poet black, and bid him sing!
  • Yet Do I Marvel I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind, And did he stoop to quibble could tell why The little buried mole continues blind, Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die, Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus To struggle up a never-ending stair. Inscrutable His ways are, and immune To catechism by a mind too strewn With petty cares to slightly understand What awful brain compels His awful hand. Yet do I marvel at this curious thing: To make a poet black, and bid him sing!
  • Cullen “Yet Do I Marvel” (cont’d) Features Traditional sonnet in iambic pentameter Classical mythological allusion Tantalus Sisyphus Assumes Biblical (Christian) understanding of man God is good, well-meaning, kind, (1) Flesh that mirrors Him must some day die, (4) Inscrutable His ways are, and immune / To catechism (9- 10)
  • Critical Views of Cullen’s Style Ann Colley condemned this choice of style by saying Cullen “loses [a] sense of his blackness when he writes poems using forms such as the sonnet, the Spenserian stanza, and rime royal” because he is then “expressing himself in terms of the white experience—not the Black” (Primeau 77). Wallace Thurman, a black novelist, disliked Cullen for being “too steeped in tradition, too influenced mentally by certain conventions and taboos” and for forsaking the “lower elements” of black culture, namely his reluctance to include jazz rhythms in his work (Anderson 32).
  • Cullen’s Style (cont’d) Lack of “be-bop” style did not mean that Cullen neglected the racial tensions of his time. Publication of Color, a book of poems that dealt exclusively with the race issue. Best known poem from this collection: “Incident”
  • Incident Once riding in old Baltimore, Heart-filled, head-filled with glee, I saw a Baltimorean Keep looking straight at me. Now I was eight and very small, And he was no whit bigger And so I smiled, but he poked out His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.” I saw the whole of Baltimore From May until December; Of all the things that happened there That’s all that I remember.
  • Incident Once riding in old Baltimore, Heart-filled, head-filled with glee, I saw a Baltimorean Keep looking straight at me. Now I was eight and very small, And he was no whit bigger And so I smiled, but he poked out His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.” I saw the whole of Baltimore From May until December; Of all the things that happened there That’s all that I remember.
  • Cullen’s Style (cont’d) Cullen held to his position saying that blues and jazz probably could not “belong to that dignified company [. . .] of high literary expression which we call poetry” (Ramazani 685). He said that this poetic style allowed him to express the “heights and the depths of emotion which I feel as a Negro” (Ramazani 726).
  • Langston Hughes
  • Langston Hughes Found his poetic identity not in a connection with the great European poets but in his ethnic connection to Africa and especially the burgeoning sound of jazz (Ramazani 685-6). He thought Cullen’s dependence on European tradition was dishonest.
  • Hughes on Cullen Hughes wrote that, “[Cullen] said to me once, ‘I want to be a POET—not a NEGRO POET,’ meaning, I believe, ‘I want to write like a white poet’; meaning subconsciously, ‘I would like to be like a white poet’; meaning behind that, ‘I would like to be white’” (Bolden 6). Hughes wanted to celebrate being black by employing black poetic technique. White men were not to be viewed as “models for positive behavior” while blacks were associated with “negative behavior,” for Hughes believed this tendency would in the end breed “self-hatred” for the black individual (Bolden 6-7).
  • Hughes’ Style Hughes attempted to capture in his poetry both the “realities of American life and the realities of the American language” (Rampersad 4). This meant that little of his poetry was founded in the traditions white poets or writers, but in the reality of the common “blues, jazz, work songs, ballads, and spirituals” he used for material (Ramazini 684). This was also based upon the view that the English language was not an inheritance for black folk at all but was violently imposed upon them as slaves (Bolden 6).
  • Hughes’ Rhythm Illustration: “Dream Boogie” from Montage of a Dream Deferred
  • Dream Boogie Good morning, daddy! Ain’t you heard The boogie-woogie rumble Of a dream deferred? Listen closely: You’ll hear their feet Beating out and beating out a – You think It’s a happy beat?
  • Listen to it closely: Ain’t you heard something underneath like a— What did I say? Sure, I’m happy! Take it away! Hey, pop! Re-bop! Mop! Y-e-a-h!
  • Dream Boogie Good morning, daddy! Ain’t you heard The boogie-woogie rumble Of a dream deferred? Listen closely: You’ll hear their feet Beating out and beating out a – You think It’s a happy beat?
  • Hughes and Whitman Though Hughes’s poetry can tend towards the “doggerel,” he learned from the example of poet Walt Whitman that America was primed for the unconventional in poetic style (Rampersad 5). Whitman’s Leaves of Grass had “revolutionized American verse in the nineteenth century,” and Hughes was prepared to write to “the black masses” in the twentieth century by taking jazz and making it poetic (Rampersad 4-5)
  • A Distinctly Negro Style A new and distinctly “Negro” style. Soon after he began writing, Critic Alain Locke said that Hughes, whose poetry was “saturated with the rhythms and moods of Negro folk life,” had become a true “people’s poet” for the black American (Bolden 7). He not only used offbeat jazz rhythms, but also popularized the style “primitivism,” demonstrated in his first published poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”
  • The Negro Speaks of Rivers I've known rivers: I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers. I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it. I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset. I've known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
  • The Negro Speaks of Rivers I've known rivers: I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers. I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it. I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset. I've known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
  • The Negro Speaks of Rivers I've known rivers: I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers. I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young. I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep. I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it. I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset. I've known rivers: Ancient, dusky rivers. My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
  • The Negro Speak of Rivers (analysis) Hughes uses long, deep phrases to signify his earthy connection with the water. He states the subject, “My soul has grown deep like the rivers,” then gradually moves from the Euphrates rivers at the beginning of time to modern day New Orleans (3).
  • Hughes and Christianity The black poets’ indifference to “conventional social judgment” provided the foundation for Hughes to reject not only European conventions, but also Christianity (Anderson, 27). Even though Cullen had successfully utilized Christian symbols in works like The Black Christ & Other Poems, Hughes dismissed this white-man’s religion. • In “Goodbye Christ,” he spoke of the Bible as, “dead now,” because “The popes and the preachers’ve / Made too much money from it” (6-8). • Instead, he sought to replace Christianity with the figure of “Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME— / I said, ME!“ (22- 3).
  • Hughes and Cullen Contrasted • Hughes, following the color of his skin to his ethnic birthplace found life and rhythm in his poetry. • Cullen, religiously keeping the traditions given to him by the European masters found convention his key for expressing what Keats called “the sweetness of the pain” (Primeau 75).
  • Conclusion • Both grappled with the question of which past would be more effective, more legitimate for the black author and audience to accept. • Though their answers differed, they both offered a singular message that was unparalleled in power.