Term Paper: Poetry Anthology for Many Readers

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Poetry Anthology

For many readers, poetry has an aura of separation form the world, an ethereal quality achieved in sublime language that carries the reader to a higher existence. Much poetry has this sort of metaphysical quality, and numerous poets have nurtured this image over the centuries as they work their magic and express the ineffable in choice and powerful language that separates them from the run-of-the-mill human being. However, the fact that much poetry has this sense of existing on a higher plane should never blind us to the fact that much poetry has a mundane tie at the same time and means to express and to be social commentary on some aspect of life, some social problem, some wrong that needs to be righted. It is perhaps not surprising that for many poets, this aspect of poetry has become more vital in the last century, also a time of political and social ferment and of taking sides in various debates and on issues covering a wide range. The poems collected in this anthology are poems of social comment and also of experimentation, since the poet's challenge to society often also involves a challenge to the staid nature of the poetry of earlier generations, and one who challenges the rules made by society may also challenge the poetic rules made by the literary establishment. These poems experiment with language, meter, rhyme, and rhythm as well as subject matter and so constitute a revolutionary expression as well as often a call for revolution.

Of course, social commentary in poetry is not something new with these writers or with their era. Many of the poets of World War I addressed issues of war and its effect on people and societies, such as Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, or Edward Thomas. Many poets can be quite specific about the social issue they are addressing, as with William Butler Yeats and his "

Easter 1916" by William Butler Yeats, addressing th Easter Uprising in Ireland. After World War I, though, more and more poets expressed their social consciousness through their poetry, seeing poetry as a means of communication with a special power all its own and allowing them to experiment with form and content to convey ideas about what they saw in the world.

Another influence on the socially conscious has been the changing nature of criticism. Any specific type of criticism provides a certain perspective on literature, serving to focus the argument and often to set forth criteria by which to judge given works. No one school of criticism should be seen as definitive, for all by their very nature focus the argument on a narrowed spectrum compared to the possible areas of inquiry and types of approach possible. For instance, Feminist Criticism serves the useful purpose of redirecting critical inquiries in a direction that has been ignored for far too long, offering a female point-of-view and suggesting ways in which society has stifled that point-of-view in the real world and in literature. This is a fairly recent development in criticism, dating from the late 1960s, and it serves as a guide to increase awareness of the role of women in society, of the special interests and abilities of women writers, and of the relationship between subject matter and social realities in a culture. Such criticism also challenges poets to respond an to address the same sorts of issues. Other critical movements have also had a similar effect, including Marxian criticism, Race criticism, and Critical Theory.

We begin with a poet of the Harlem Renaissance who made social consciousness a central element in his poetry, not surprising for an African-American poet reacting to the segregation and discrimination which by the 1920s was endemic in American life. Langston Hughes copes with the reality of race in his works and with the social tensions beset the black community. The poetry of Langston Hughes is challenging. It derives from a different tradition from most American poetry, a tradition of black culture, of jazz, and of protest. Hughes celebrated his racial identity, something few poets had done before. He was said to speak for the black masses, and he took this responsibility much to heart. Hughes' poetry seems to come from somewhere deep inside and to explode as a spontaneous utterance, however carefully designed it may actually be. For the black man, society demands a certain level of behavior, denying individuality, while at the same time denying full membership in the society imposing these rules. Hughes feels the force of this paradox in his life and expresses this idea in his poetry, asserting an individual vision through his work that is difficult for the average black man to achieve in society. He accomplishes this by making use of the black experience in America and by drawing upon black idioms, language, music, and cultural elements to evoke a vision of the black man in American life.

Hughes came from the black world of the 1920s, a time when black culture was becoming more appealing to white society through the jazz and other music blacks produced. Hughes' poetry was part of the so-called Harlem Renaissance, the name given this explosion in black culture across a wide front, beginning in Harlem and moving outward. Hughes tried to create a poetry that evoked the spirit of black America, and this necessitated creating a black identity that made sense to him and that would appeal to his audience at the same time. The voice he developed came from his experience and reflected the experience of the black masses he represented. His writings of every sort told the story of the black man in America.

In his poetry, Hughes considers the point-of-view of the black man and how it differs from that of the white, though he sees that both are Americans. He links his voice to that of all black men through time in "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," a poem in which he says "I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins." This ancient past is within his soul, and his soul is one with the ancient rivers, growing as deep as they were. There is a long black history that has been largely ignored by white society, which treats all history as a white history. The speaker knows that this is not so and that within him is that truth his instructor says will come out on the page:

bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

A built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

A looked upon the Nile and raised my pyramids above it.

This ancient history is connected to the slave history in America as he refers to Mississippi and Abe Lincoln and New Orleans, and the Mississippi River is just one more of the ancient rivers he has known.

Many of Hughes' poems address issues of the blues directly, using the blues as subject matter while at the same time echoing the syncopation and rhythms of the music. One such instance is "The Weary Blues," a poem that links the blues and the black man in the opening lines:

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,

Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon, heard a Negro play.

Hughes recreates a blues song in this poem:

Ain't nobody in all this world,

Ain't got nobody but ma self.

I's gwine to quit ma frownin'

And put ma troubles on the shelf.

Aurora Levins Morales in her poem "Child of the Americas" expresses some uncertainty as to her own identity, whether that be black, white, or Indian. She believes that most Americans have a sense of their identity that defines them in such terms and that those who have such a clearly defined identity look down on people like Morales, who do not. In truth, though, most Americans have only a vague sense of their own identity. If they define themselves as black or white, that is not a definition of their identity as an American, because Americans are both black and white and a number of other colors. If they define themselves as male or female, that is also not part of their American identity, which encompasses both. The American identity embodies many of these elements and can make an American appear as a citizen of the world, but under these superficial differences is the basic belief in freedom, equality, and the rule of law for all. This is what maintains the ongoing promotion of what is seen as good in government and the watchfulness for any betrayal of those principles.

Amiri Baraka's poem "An Agony. As Now" from 1964 presents the poet observing himself from some distance and taking stock of what he sees. The tone of the poem is thus bifurcated, as the poet is both observer and observed, an idea expressed from the first as if he (the consciousness) were trapped inside a body he does not admire and may… [END OF PREVIEW]

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