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(RM) Coleman, Jeffrey Lamar. Words of Protest, Words of Freedom: Poetry of the American Civil Rights Movement and Era. Durham: Duke University Press, 2012. Print.
Coleman’s anthology includes 150 plus poems written by celebrated poets (Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Adrienne Rich, and Gwendolyn Brooks, among others); and a unique addition of poems by social justice advocates and regular citizens. The text references events such as the murders Emmett Till, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Kennedy. Although it is not comprehensive of African American poetry or social justice poetry, this survey is an instructional tool that will guide preliminary studies of the genre.
Coleman’s selection is organized chronologically and his commentary is readable and insightful. The preface defines what a civil rights movement poem is. Preceding each section is a helpful essay that provides brief historical context and explains the connections between the poems. The information is reliable; Coleman is a professor of literature at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and a frequent lecturer on the Civil Rights Era. Coleman’s goal in publishing this anthology, acknowledged as “the first of its kind,” is to “marry the two concepts of civil rights and poetry.”
(MS) Eleveld, Mark, Ed. The Spoken Word Revolution (Slam, Hip Hop & the poetry of a New Generation). Naperville: Sourcebooks, Inc, 2003. Print.
In the Introduction by Billy Collins, slam poetry is defined and explained as an interaction directly between the poet and the audience. The focus remains centered on
how the poem changes when it is removed from the realm of print and thrust into the reality of interaction. Instead of being an individual encounter, slam makes poetry a face-to-face reaction and conversation between the poet and the audience.
By looking at this relationship between poet and audience, the book suggests a new plane for social justice poetry. The direct action that occurs as a result of slam allows for the issue to take on a new aura and become more of a physical problem. The identity of the social issue becomes no longer just an idea on the page. Instead it extends to the world, something that is going on right now while the poet speaks.
Therefore, as a source, this book adds a good background to what slam is and the role it plays in Social Justice poetry. The use of numerous well-distinguished poets and their writings helps root the authority of the book to speak about slam poetry.
(BR) Gabbin, Joanne V. The Furious Flowering of African American Poetry. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999.
This book is a compilation of essays on the topic of early black writers and the beginning of movement. It was included in my annotated bibliography because it applauds the black tradition in protest poetry and, in specific, the art of Langston Hughes’s blues (p 10-11). In the first chapter, Langston Hughes is presented as an immortal soul with a loving pen. One particular quote that captured my attention and my interest in the topic of Social Justice Poetry is as follows: “Langston Hughes was absolutely clear about the focus of his work and the danger inherent in articulating the history and vision, the realities and aspirations, of the sufferers” (p 21).
(RM) Hatcher, John. From the Auroral Darkness: the Life and Poetry of Robert Hayden. Oxford: Ronald, 1984.
This in-depth biography of Robert Hayden chronicles his life in great detail and “creatively examines” his poems in chronological order. This book also explores the paradoxical “controversy” Hayden encountered: “he would not allow his verse to become propaganda nor would he consider himself a ‘Black poet’: he was a poet who happened to be black” (37), yet Hayden writes, during the Civil Rights Era and in a possibly confessional manner, about the injustices suffered by African Americans.
This book uses interview material, quotations, poetry and publication excerpts, and even personal letters as sources; it also contains thorough analysis of Hayden’s poetry. Overall, this text offers practically everything a Hayden researcher would need to study his life, beliefs, and poetry in one comprehensive book.
(MS) Kay, Sarah. “The Type.” The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power. The Huffington Post, 2 July, 2013. Web. 27 October 2013.
This is a web page that showcases Sarah Kay’s poem, “The Type,” both in video format and in written format. The poem looks at defining what it means to be a woman not only singularly, but also in relation to other people. Poetry here is a way to work through problems, to make the world make sense. With this viewpoint towards poetry, social justice poetry takes a new light. It is twofold, not set only to one category. In fact, today’s social justice poetry draws attention to what is wrong or out of place with the world, without pointing fingers or blaming individuals. Social justice poetry through this lens becomes more of a coping mechanism tied with the expression of identity.
(BR) Nelson, Cary. Revolutionary Memory: Recovering the Poetry of the American Left. New York: Routledge, 2001.
Revolutionary Memory brings a consideration of the impact of revolutionary/social action/protest poetry. In the chapter titled “The Assault on Langston Hughes,” the author writes about how HUAC attacked Langston Hughes during the Red scare for his radical poetry. Using reference to the poem “Christ in Alabama,” the author claims Hughes drives “two hundred years of racial trauma” full force into the 13 line, 47 word poem. This source is important for looking at the affects of social justice poetry following their publication. This source investigates how many attempted to have Hughes imprisoned for his Communist ties and Socialist ways.
(BR) Reid, Margaret Ann. Black Protest Poetry: Polemics From the Harlem Renaissance and the Sixties. New York: P. Lang, 2001.
Black Protest Poetry compares the Harlem Renaissance and Sixties Protest movements because they are “two periods when black poets felt more urgently the need to write about their oppression”(p 1). The introduction begins by comparing two definitions—that of affirmation and that of protest—to reveal they are essentially the same. The book also argues that much African American protest poetry still survives “because the issues that they were concerned with still persist” (p 9). In these first few pages it is easy to see that social justice poetry is a strong theme in the book. In addition, the author has a wealth of information on Langston Hughes, who, “using [his] blues form…wrote of the social tragedies in ways that would allow the Black to see himself and to laugh to keep from crying” (p 17). The book ensures that the reader realizes that, “Although Hughes wrote about the fun-loving Harlemites, he was still Protesting their condition” (p 17). This is explored in the poem “The South” from The Weary Blues. This source is important to my project because it covers Harlem Renaissance Social Justice poetry more in depth, and still spends a good amount of pages on Langston Hughes.
(RM) “Robert Hayden.” Poetry Foundation. Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute, n.d. Web. 3 Oct. 2013.
This reputable website provides biographical information on many poets, with some focus on their personal lives, but more on their careers and achievements in poetry. Robert Hayden’s biography describes his childhood, his education, the historical basis for his poetry, and the role of religion in his life. The article also mentions the poetic forms, voices, and techniques he employs.
An interesting paragraph centers on the criticism Hayden received for his stance that “the work of black writers must be judged wholly in the context of the literary tradition in English, rather than within the confines of the ethnocentrism that is common in contemporary literature written by blacks.” Finally, the website includes links to more articles about Hayden and links to several of his more popular poems.
(MS) Rosal, Patrick. “About the White Boys who Drove By a Second Time to Throw a Bucket of Water on Me.” My American Kundiman. New York: Persea Books, 2006. Print.
This is a poem clearly concerning race, but also voicing a simple occurrence and again attempting to make sense of the everyday happenings in life. The poem moves from what happens and expresses the speaker’s reaction to what happens. Yet, the attention of the poem also captures the injustice of the situation. As a contemporary poet, Patrick Rosal and his poem adds to the commentary on social justice poetry in the present time. Poems written in the genre (if we can call it that) are reactionary, re-enforcing an identity already clear, or bringing to light that which should cause uncertainty in the audience of the poem. While not specifically a slam poet,
Rosal’s work and reading of his work grows from the movement itself and calls for the direct interaction of the audience with the poem.
(RM) Rowell, Charles H. Angles of Ascent: a Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2013.
This anthology of contemporary African American poetry is more expansive and broader a scope that the Coleman anthology which specifies on Civil Rights Movement Poetry. The title “Angles of Ascent” comes from a line in a Robert Hayden poem. The introductory section, “Writing Self, Writing Community” examines historical context. The selection of Robert Hayden’s poetry is limited to three poems and a lengthy, interesting quotation from Hayden about why and how he writes poetry. Because this book does not include much bibliographical information or criticism, and also because it is not specific to the Civil Rights Poetry Movement, it may not be as helpful as the Coleman anthology.
(MS) Somers-Willett, Susan. The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry: Race, Identity, and the Performance of Popular Verse in America. U of Michigan P, 2009. ProQuest. Web. 29 Sep. 2013.
This book focuses on how slam grew into existence as a result of a disillusionment between the American public and the poet. Somoers-Willett discusses how slam grew from the conflict of people claiming that poetry had died and how poetry was limited only to the academic realm. The book goes on to discuss how cultural politics and social tension flows into slam poetry and directs where it leads, noting, “Slam’sopenness to all peoples and all types of poetry suggests a specific political inquiry in its practice. . .” (6-7).
Thus this book serves as a look into a specific area of social action poetry, one where in current times, the political message and call for attention to identity and ethnic diversity meets face-to-face in the direct performance of poetry with the American public. This interaction of audience and poetry brings the messages stated in social action poetry to a new realm so that the poets have a voice that reaches out from a less-academic level, but more on a down-to-earth average person approach.
As a source, this book serves to show how social action poetry works today in
society, the role that politics, voices, identity, and the need to express opinion and belief,
minority injustice. Slam, as a form that comes from the working-class people, from all
sorts of backgrounds, takes on a persona of authority when it comes to speaking about
social justice. It brings the issue directly to the public.
(MS) “SPOKEN WORD ARTIST SARAH KAY TO PERFORM AT ROWAN.” US Fed News Service, Including US State NewsNov 17 2009. ProQuest. Web. 27 Oct. 2013.
This article discusses the poet, Sarah Kay, who is a spoken word artist. She focuses on bringing poetry to younger people, and works with Project VOICE which is “a national movement that celebrates and inspires youth self-expression through spoken word poetry.” The article briefly lays out the life and works of Kay.
Kay is a useful figure to study, in order to augment an understanding of social justice poetry and slam’s relationship in today’s society, but also to further discuss the mode of slam poetry in its interaction with the audience. Project VOICE encourages identity expression, a key component of slam as well as a tool much tied to social action.
However, since Kay is a currently living poet, finding information on her life and poetry becomes increasingly difficult. In effect, because she is still living, notes on her actions help put Kay in context for the project.
(BR) Trotman, C. James. Langston Hughes: the Man, His Art, and His Continuing Influence. New York: Garland Pub., 1995.
This book, as the title indicates, is about Langston Hughes. A number of notable professors and scholars contribute essays to this collection, but what draws me to this book in particular is the coverage of his Harlem Renaissance days. These were days of social action, when he wrote in protest of terrible conditions and social injustices. Specifically the chapters “Langston Hughes: Poetry, Blues, and Gospel—Somewhere to Stand by Steven Tracy” and “Langston Hughes’s Nigger Heaven Blues by Bruce Keller” have both provided interesting examples and background into the life and words of Hughes. Tracy comments on the effects of Langston Hughes’s tonal strength in the use of jazz, while Keller analyzes an instance when the poet’s words helped a poet collection in serious trouble, and what the overall affect of Hughes’s words were. This source is important to my project because it covers much of the influence Langston Hughes had and gives information regarding the subject of social justice poetry.
(RM) Williams, Pontheolla T. Robert Hayden: a Critical Analysis of His Poetry. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.
This book begins by acknowledging that “While [Robert Hayden] has emerged as one of America’s leading black poets, his work has failed to attract nearly the critical or popular attention granted to white writers of equal accomplishments” (xvii). That is one reason why this work of critical analysis is an important source for research on Hayden’s poetry.
The critical approach seems to focus on diction, phonetics, form, imagery, and allusions rather than solely on historical context or autobiographical implications, which is how Hayden preferred his poetry to be considered. This book and its author’s literary commentary and analysis can be compared to and contrasted with Hatcher’s criticism. Another important element of this text is its chronology of Hayden’s life, a timeline at the back of the book.