Wednesday, February 6, 2008

African American poems--a few favorites

"An embarrassment of riches" is an intriguing cliche. I suppose if one is wealthy in a monetary or acquisitive sense, one ought to feel some embarrassment, at least enough to induce one to share. But in literature, I'm not sure it's posssible to have an embarrassment of riches. Of course, I would think that, for I'm a greedy reader of poetry and don't believe the world can have too many good poems.

But as we're well into Black History Month, I thought I'd mention a few of my favorite African American poems, many of which are also my favorite poems, period. In no particular order, then:

"Yet Do I Marvel," by Countee Cullen. A perfect sonnet, but also a modern sonnet. And considering that Cullen has to finish the argument in 14 lines, the argument is quite complicated. It's an argument with God, to some degree.

Paul Laurence Dunbar, "We Wear the Masks."

Jessie Redmon Fauset, "La Vie C'est La Vie." A superbly phrased lyric poem.

Georgia Douglas Johnson, "I Want to Die While You Love Me." I have a recording of Alfre Woodard reading this one; her rendition is captivating.

Claude McKay, " If We Must Die" and "To White Friends." I have a recording of Ice T reading "If We Must Die."

Two more by Cullen: "Incident" and "Heritage." The latter is a remarkable achievement in poetry.

Langston Hughes, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," "I, Too," "Harlem," "Mother to Son," several of the "Madam" poems, "Trumpet Player," and "Theme for English B." Really what I want to do is to recommend the whole Collected Poems, but I must restrain myself.

Robert Hayden, "Those Winter Sundays." Students tend to like this one a lot. It resonates for me partly because of the wood-stove in the poem.

Margaret Walker, "For Malcolm X."

Gwendolyn Brooks, "We Real Cool," "The Beat Eaters," and "Malcolm X"

Bob Kaufman, "Jail Poems"

Etheridge Knight, "For Black Poets Who Think of Suicide"

Audre Lorde, "Coal"

Amiri Baraka, "A Poem for Black Hearts"

Michael Harper, "Dear John, Dear Coltrane"

June Jordan, "Poem About My Rights" A wide variety of people "connect" with this poem.

Nikki Giovanni, "Beautiful Black Men"

Yusef Komunyakaa, "Facing It." One of the best poems from/about the Viet Nam War era.

Rita Dove, "Ö," "Parsley," "History" The second two are rather famous, the first one not so much, but I love that poem.

James Emanuel, "After the Record Is Broken" Emanuel is not a well known poet now, although he's still revered as a pioneer in African American criticism. It's a fine poem.

Dudley Randall, "Booker T. and W.E.B." A nice poetic summary of the two points of view, or at least one version of the two points of view.

Mari Evans, "And The Old Women Gathered"
Post a Comment