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20TH CENTURY

AFRICAN AMERICAN

POETS

MR. FREEDMAN

ENGLISH 9

ENGLISH 9 2009-2010
Claude McKay

Harlem Renaissance

The White House

Your door is shut against my tightened face,

And I am sharp as steel with discontent;

But I possess the courage and the grace

To bear my anger proudly and unbent.

The pavement slabs burn loose beneath my feet,

A chafing savage, down the decent street;

And passion rends my vitals as I pass,

Where boldly shines your shuttered door of glass.

Oh, I must search for wisdom every hour,

Deep in my wrathful bosom sore and raw,

And find in it the superhuman power

To hold me to the letter of your law!

Oh, I must keep my heart inviolate

Against the potent poison of your hate.

America

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,

And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth,

Stealing my breath of life, I will confess

I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!

Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,

Giving me strength erect against her hate.

Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.

Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,

I stand within her walls with not a shred

Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.

Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,

And see her might and granite wonders there,

Beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand,

Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
Countee Cullen

Harlem Renaissance
Saturday's Child

Some are teethed on a silver spoon,


With the stars strung for a rattle;
I cut my teeth as the black raccoon--
For implements of battle. 

Some are swaddled in silk and down,


And heralded by a star;
They swathed my limbs in a sackcloth gown
On a night that was black as tar.

For some, godfather and goddame


The opulent fairies be;
Dame Poverty gave me my name,
And Pain godfathered me.

For I was born on Saturday--


"Bad time for planting a seed,"
Was all my father had to say,
And, "One mouth more to feed."

Death cut the strings that gave me life,


And handed me to Sorrow,
The only kind of middle wife
My folks could beg or borrow.


Langston Hughes

Harlem Renaissance



I, Too, Sing America

I, too, sing America.


I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.


Tomorrow,

I'll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody'll dare

Say to me,

"Eat in the kitchen,"

Then.
Besides,

They'll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed--
I, too, am America.


Madam and Her Madam

I worked for a woman,

She wasn't mean--

But she had a twelve-room

House to clean.
Had to get breakfast,

Dinner, and supper, too--

Then take care of her children

When I got through.


Wash, iron, and scrub,

Walk the dog around--

It was too much,

Nearly broke me down.


I said, Madam,

Can it be

You trying to make a

Pack-horse out of me?


She opened her mouth.

She cried, Oh, no!

You know, Alberta,

I love you so!


I said, Madam,

That may be true--

But I'll be dogged

If I love you!





Paul Laurence Dunbar

Harlem Renaissance




We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.


Why should the world be overwise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.


We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

We wear the mask!



Life's Tragedy

It may be misery not to sing at all,


And to go silent through the brimming day;
It may be misery never to be loved,
But deeper griefs than these beset the way.

To sing the perfect song,


And by a half-tone lost the key,
There the potent sorrow, there the grief,
The pale, sad staring of Life's Tragedy.

To have come near to the perfect love,


Not the hot passion of untempered youth,
But that which lies aside its vanity,
And gives, for thy trusting worship, truth.

This, this indeed is to be accursed,


For if we mortals love, or if we sing,
We count our joys not by what we have,
But by what kept us from that perfect thing.


God Give to Men Arna Bontemps
God give the yellow man
an easy breeze at blossom time.
Grant his eager, slanting eyes to cover
every land and dream
of afterwhile.

Give blue-eyed men their swivel chairs


to whirl in tall buildings.
Allow them many ships at sea,
and on land, soldiers
and policemen.

For black man, God,


no need to bother more
but only fill afresh his meed
of laughter,
his cup of tears.

God suffer little men


the taste of soul's desire








The Bean Eaters Gwendolyn Brooks

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.

Dinner is a casual affair.

Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,

Tin flatware.
Two who are Mostly Good.

Two who have lived their day,

But keep on putting on their clothes

And putting things away.


And remembering . . .

Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,

As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that

is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,

tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.
We Real Cool
THE POOL PLAYERS.

SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.


We real cool. We

Left school. We


Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We


Sing sin. We

Thin gin. We


Jazz June. We

Die soon.


Coal Audre Lorde

I
is the total black, being spoken


from the earth's inside.
There are many kinds of open
how a diamond comes into a knot of flame
how sound comes into a word, coloured
by who pays for what speaking.

Some words are open like a diamond


on glass windows
singing out within the passing crash of sun
There are words like stapled wagers
in a perforated book, -buy and sign and tear apart-
and come whatever wills all chances
the stub remains
an ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
breeding like adders. Others know sun
seeking like gypsies over my tongue
to explode through my lips
like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
bedevil me.

Love is a word, another kind of open.


As the diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am Black because I come from the earth's inside
now take my word for jewel in the open light.

Dark Prophecy: I Sing Of Shine Etheridge Knight

And, yeah brothers


while white America sings about the unsinkable molly brown
(who was hustling the titanic
when it went down)
I sing to thee of Shine
the stoker who was hip enough to flee the fucking ship
and let the white folks drown
with screams on their lips
(jumped his black ass into the dark sea, Shine did,
broke free from the straining steel).
Yeah, I sing to thee of Shine
and how the millionaire banker stood on the deck
and pulled from his pockets a million dollar check
saying Shine Shine save poor me
and I'll give you all the money a black boy needs-
how Shine looked at the money and then at the sea
and said jump in muthafucka and swim like me-
and Shine swam on-Shine swam on-
and how the banker's daughter ran naked on the deck
with her pink tits trembling and her pants roun her neck
screaming Shine Shine save poor me
and I'll give you all the pussy a black boy needs-
how Shine said now pussy is good and that's no jive
but you got to swim not fuck to stay alive-
And Shine swam on Shine Swam on-

How Shine swam past a preacher afloating on a board


crying save me nigger Shine in the name of the Lord-
and how the preacher grabbed Shine's arm and broke his stroke-
how Shine pulled his shank and cut the preacher's throat-
And Shine swam on-Shine swam on-
And when news hit shore that the titanic had sunk
Shine was up in Harlem damn near drunk-
the mississippi river empties into the gulf Lucille Clifton


and the gulf enters the sea and so forth,
none of them emptying anything,
all of them carrying yesterday
forever on their white tipped backs,
all of them dragging forward tomorrow.
it is the great circulation
of the earth's body, like the blood
of the gods, this river in which the past
is always flowing. every water
is the same water coming round.
everyday someone is standing on the edge
of this river, staring into time,
whispering mistakenly:
only here. only now.

Still I Rise Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise.


Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.


Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I'll rise.


Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?


Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don't you take it awful hard

'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines

Diggin' in my own backyard.


You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I'll rise.


Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I've got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame

I rise


Up from a past that's rooted in pain

I rise


I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.


Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise


Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear

I rise


Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise


I rise.


Haiku Sonia Sanchez

we are sudden stars


you and i exploding in
our blue black skins

To Anita

high/yellow/black/girl

walken like the sun u be.

move on even higher.

those who

laugh at yo/color

have not moved


to the blackness we be about

cuz as Curtis Mayfield be sayen

we people be darker than blue

and quite a few

of us be yellow

all soul/shades of

blackness.

yeah. high/yellow/black/girl

walk yo/black/song

cuz some of us

be hearen yo/sweet/music.


Crutches Nikki Giovanni

it's not the crutches we decry


it's the need to move forward
though we haven't the strength

women aren't allowed to need


so they develop rituals
since we all know working hands idle
the devil
women aren't supposed to be strong
so they develop social smiles
and secret drinking problems
and female lovers whom they never touch
except in dreams

men are supposed to be strong


so they have heart attacks
and develop other women
who don't know their weaknesses
and hide their fears
behind male lovers
whom they religiously touch
each saturday morning on the basketball court
it's considered a sign of health doncha know
that they take such good care
of their bodies

i'm trying to say something about the human condition


maybe i should try again
Nikki-Rosa Nikki Giovanni

childhood remembrances are always a drag

if you’re Black

you always remember things like living in Woodlawn

with no inside toilet

and if you become famous or something

they never talk about how happy you were to have

your mother

all to yourself and

how good the water felt when you got your bath

from one of those

big tubs that folk in chicago barbecue in

and somehow when you talk about home

it never gets across how much you

understood their feelings

as the whole family attended meetings about Hollydale

and even though you remember

your biographers never understand

your father’s pain as he sells his stock

and another dream goes

And though you’re poor it isn’t poverty that

concerns you

and though they fought a lot

it isn’t your father’s drinking that makes any difference

but only that everybody is together and you

and your sister have happy birthdays and very good

Christmases

and I really hope no white person ever has cause

to write about me

because they never understand

Black love is Black wealth and they’ll

probably talk about my hard childhood

and never understand that

all the while I was quite happy



Ka'Ba Amiri Baraka

"A closed window looks down

on a dirty courtyard, and Black people

call across or scream across or walk across

defying physics in the stream of their will.
Our world is full of sound

Our world is more lovely than anyone's

tho we suffer, and kill each other

and sometimes fail to walk the air.


We are beautiful people

With African imaginations

full of masks and dances and swelling chants

with African eyes, and noses, and arms

tho we sprawl in gray chains in a place

full of winters, when what we want is sun.


We have been captured,

and we labor to make our getaway, into

the ancient image; into a new
Correspondence with ourselves

and our Black family. We need magic

now we need the spells, to raise up

return, destroy,and create. What will be


the sacred word?

Ka'Ba (meaning “cube” in Arabic) is the building deeply revered by Muslims, in the center of the great mosque at Mecca, in the eastern corner of which, about five feet from the ground, is embedded the Black Stone. The Black Stone (al-hajar, al-aswad) is a stone believed to be of meteoric origin. During pilgrimage Muslims attempt to kiss it and walk around it seven times.

Monday in B-Flat Amiri Baraka

I can pray 


    all day 
    & God 
    wont come.

But if I call 


            911
        The Devil 
            Be here

        in a minute! 



Poetry Glossary
1. Basic Terms

denotation: the dictionary meaning of a word

connotation: the implied or suggested meaning connected with a word

literal meaning: limited to the simplest, ordinary, most obvious meaning

figurative meaning: associative or connotative meaning; representational

meter: measured pattern of rhythmic accents in a line of verse

rhyme: correspondence of terminal sounds of words or of lines of verse

2. Figurative Language

apostrophe: a direct address of an inanimate object, abstract qualities, or a person not living or present.

Example: "Beware, O Asparagus, you've stalked my last meal."

hyperbole: exaggeration for emphasis (the opposite of understatement)

Example: "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse."

metaphor: comparison between essentially unlike things without using words OR application of a name or description to something to which it is not literally applicable

Example: "[Love] is an ever fixed mark, / that looks on tempests and is never shaken."

oxymoron: a combination of two words that appear to contradict each other

Example: bittersweet

paradox: a situation or phrase that appears to be contradictory but which contains a truth worth considering

Example: "In order to preserve peace, we must prepare for war."

personification: the endowment of inanimate objects or abstract concepts with animate or living qualities

Example: "Time let me play / and be golden in the mercy of his means"

simile: comparison between two essentially unlike things using words such as "like," as," or "as though"

Example: "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun"

synecdoche: a part substituted for the whole

Example: "Friends, Romans, countrymen: lend me your ears"

3. Poetic Devices

irony: a contradiction of expectation between what is said and what is meant (verbal irony) or what is expected in a particular circumstance or behavior (situational), or when a character speaks in ignorance of a situation known to the audience or other characters (situational)

Example: "Time held me green and dying / Though I sang in my chains like the sea"

imagery: word or sequence of words representing a sensory experience (visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, and gustatory)

Example: "bells knelling classes to a close" (auditory)

synesthesia: an attempt to fuse different senses by describing one in terms of another

Example: the sound of her voice was sweet

symbol: an object or action that stands for something beyond itself

Example: white = innocence, purity, hope

alliteration: the repetition of consonant sounds, particularly at the beginning of words

Example: ". . . like a wanderer white"

assonance: the repetition of similar vowel sounds

Example: "I rose and told him of my woe"

onomatopoeia: the use of words to imitate the sounds they describe

Example: "crack" or "whir"

allusion: a reference to the person, event, or work outside the poem or literary piece

Example: "Shining, it was Adam and maiden"

4. Poetic Forms

open: poetic form free from regularity and consistency in elements such as rhyme, line length, and metrical form

closed: poetic form subject to a fixed structure and pattern

stanza: unit of a poem often repeated in the same form throughout a poem; a unit of poetic lines ("verse paragraph")

blank verse: unrhymed iambic pentameter

free verse: lines with no prescribed pattern or structure

couplet: a pair of lines, usually rhymed

heroic couplet: a pair of rhymed lines in iambic pentameter (tradition of the heroic epic form)

quatrain: four-line stanza or grouping of four lines of verse

sonnet fourteen line poem in iambic pentameter with a prescribed rhyme scheme; its subject is traditionally that of love
POETRY GROUPS AND MOVEMENTS


A Brief Guide to Negritude

Negritude was both a literary and movement of ideas led by French-speaking black writers and intellectuals. The movement is marked by its rejection of European colonization (white cultures forcing their ways upon any foreign culture) and its role in the African diaspora (a scattering of a people, language, or culture that was formerly concentrated in one place), pride in "blackness" and traditional African values and culture, mixed with an undercurrent of Marxist ideals. Its founders (or les trois pères), Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Léon-Gontran Damas, met while studying in Paris in 1931 and began to publish the first journal devoted to Negritude, L'Étudiant noir (The Black Student), in 1934.


The term "Negritude" was coined by Césaire in 1939 and it means, in his words, "the simple recognition of the fact that one is black, the acceptance of this fact and of our destiny as blacks, of our history and culture." Even in its beginnings Negritude was truly an international movement--drawing inspiration from the flowering of African-American culture brought about by the writers and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance while asserting its place in the canon of French literature, glorifying the traditions of the African continent, and attracting participants in the colonized countries of the Caribbean, North Africa, and Latin America.
The movement's sympathizers included French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Roumain, founder of the Haitian Communist party. The movement would later find a major critic in Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian playwright and poet, who believed that a purposeful and outspoken pride in their color placed black people continually on the defensive, saying notably "A tiger doesn't declare its tigerness; it jumps on its prey." Negritude has remained an influential movement throughout the rest of the twentieth century to the present day.

A Brief Guide to the Harlem Renaissance
In the decades immediately following World War I, huge numbers of African Americans migrated to the industrial North from the economically depressed and agrarian South. In cities such as Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York City, the recently migrated sought and found (to some degree) new opportunities, both economic and artistic. African Americans were encouraged to celebrate their heritage and to become "The New Negro," a term coined in 1925 by sociologist and critic Alain LeRoy Locke in his influential book of the same name.
Countee Cullen thought long and hard in his poems about his own and collective African-American identity. Some of his strongest poems question the benevolence of a Creator who has bestowed a race with such mixed blessings. Claude McKay, born and raised in Jamaica, wrote of the immigrant's nostalgia and the American negro's pride and rage. Jean (Eugene) Toomer remains a mystery. Light enough to "pass" and alone constituting the generation's Symbolist avant-garde, he appeared briefly on the Harlem Renaissance scene, became a follower of the mystic Gurdjieff, and disappeared into the white world.

Sterling Brown, for many years a professor at Howard University, emerged in the thirties with sometimes playful, often pessimistic poems in standard English and black vernacular and in African American and European forms. In many of Brown's poems strong men and women resist the oppression of racism, poverty, and fate.


The legacy of the Harlem Renaissance opened doors and deeply influenced the generations of African American writers that followed, including Robert Hayden and Gwendolyn Brooks. In the forties, fifties, and sixties, Hayden taught at Fisk University and the University of Michigan and served two terms as the Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress. Since the publication in 1945 of her first book, A Street in Bronzeville, Brooks has combined a quiet life with critical success. Her second book, Annie Allen, won the 1950 Pulitzer prize, the first time a book by a black poet had won that coveted distinction, and the last time until Rita Dove's Thomas and Beulah, almost forty years later. Brooks was a virtuoso of technique, her exquisite poems exploring, for the first time, the interior lives of African American individuals. Brooks' perspective shifted mid-career, her later work influenced by the politically and socially radical Black Arts Movement of the sixties.
A Brief Guide to the Black Arts Movement (BAM)

"Sometimes referred to as 'the artistic sister of the Black Power Movement,' the Black Arts Movement stands as the single most controversial moment in the history of African-American literature--possibly in American literature as a whole. Although it fundamentally changed American attitudes both toward the function and meaning of literature as well as the place of ethnic literature in English departments, African-American scholars as prominent as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., have deemed it the 'shortest and least successful' movement in African American cultural history." --"Black Creativity: On the Cutting Edge," Time (Oct. 10, 1994)



With roots in the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, and the Black Power Movement, Black Arts is usually dated from approximately 1960 to 1970. African American artists within the movement sought to create politically engaged work that explored the African American cultural and historical experience.
One of the most important figures in the Black Arts Movement is Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones). Following the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) made a symbolic move from Manhattan's Lower East Side to Harlem, where he founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School. According to the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, "No one was more competent in [the] combination of the experimental and the vernacular than Amiri Baraka, whose volume Black Magic Poetry 1961-1967 (1969) is one of the finest products of the African American creative energies of the 1960s."
Sometimes criticized as misogynist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and racially exclusive, the Black Arts movement is also credited with motivating a new generation of poets, writers and artists. In recent years, however, many other writers--Native Americans, Latinos/as, gays and lesbians, and younger generations of African Americans, for instance--have acknowledged their debt to the Black Arts movement.
Related works include "On Black Art" by Maulana Ron Karenga and "The Revolutionary Theatre" by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones). For more information, consult The Oxford Companion to African American Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996), Furious Flower: African American Poetry from the Black Arts Movement to the Present (University of Virginia Press, 2004) and Modern American Poetry's Black Arts resources.

Poets in the Black Arts Movement inlude: Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ed Bullins, Eldridge Ceaver, Jayne Cortez, Harold Cruse, Mari Evans, Hoyt Fuller, Nikki Giovanni, Lorraine Hansberry, Gil-Scott Heron, Maulana Ron Karenga, Etheridge Knight, Adrienne Kennedy, Haki R. Madhubuti, Larry Neal, Ishmael Reed, Sonia Sanchez, Ntozake Shange, Quincy Troupe, and John Alfred Williams.

A Brief Guide to Jazz Poetry
Jazz poetry is a literary genre defined as poetry necessarily informed by jazz music—that is, poetry in which the poet responds to and writes about jazz. Jazz poetry, like the music itself, encompasses a variety of forms, rhythms, and sounds. Beginning with the birth of blues and jazz at the beginning of the twentieth century, jazz poetry is can be seen as a thread that runs through the Harlem Renaissance, the Beat movement, and the Black Arts Movement—and it is still vibrant today. From early blues to free jazz to experimental music, jazz poets use their appreciation for the music as poetic inspiration.
Not only the music but the artists make frequent appearances in jazz poetry: Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Bessie Smith, and Lester Young are just some of the muses for jazz poetry.
But writing about jazz poetry is, as they say, like dancing about architecture. Perhaps the form can be best understood through a few lines from the poets themselves:
from “The Weary Blues”, by Langston Hughes:

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,

Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,

I heard a Negro play.

Down on Lenox Avenue the other night

By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light

He did a lazy sway . . .

He did a lazy sway . . .

To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.from Jazz Fan Looks Back, by Jayne Cortez:

I crisscrossed with Monk

Wailed with Bud

Counted every star with Stitt

Sang "Don’t Blame Me" with Sarah

Wore a flower like Billie

Screamed in the range of Dinah

& scatted "How High the Moon" with Ella Fitzgerald

as she blew roof off the Shrine Auditorium

Jazz at the Philharmonic


Poets in the Jazz tradition include: Amiri Baraka, Marvin Bell, Sterling Brown, Hayden Carruth, Jayne Cortez, Michael S. Harper, Langston Hughes, Jack Kerouac, Yusef Komunyaaka, Mina Loy, Kenneth Rexroth, and Sonia Sanchez.


A Brief Guide to Slam Poetry


Because Allen Ginsberg says, "Slam! Into the Mouth of the Dharma!"

Because Gregory Corso says, "Why do you want to hang out with us old guys? If I

was young, I'd be going to the Slam!"

Because Bob Kaufman says, "Each Slam / a finality."
—Bob Holman from "Why Slam Causes Pain and Is a Good Thing"

One of the most vital and energetic movements in poetry during the 1990s, slam has revitalized interest in poetry in performance. Poetry began as part of an oral tradition, and movements like the Beats and the poets of Negritude were devoted to the spoken and performed aspects of their poems. This interest was reborn through the rise of poetry slams across America; while many poets in academia found fault with the movement, slam was well received among young poets and poets of diverse backgrounds as a democratizing force. This generation of spoken word poetry is often highly politicized, drawing upon racial, economic, and gender injustices as well as current events for subject manner.


A slam itself is simply a poetry competition in which poets perform original work alone or in teams before an audience, which serves as judge. The work is judged as much on the manner and enthusiasm of its performance as its content or style, and many slam poems are not intended to be read silently from the page. The structure of the traditional slam was started by construction worker and poet Marc Smith in 1986 at a reading series in a Chicago jazz club. The competition quickly spread across the country, finding a notable home in New York City at the Nuyorican Poets Café.






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