McKay's first poems were composed in rural Jamaican creole and
launched his lifelong commitment to representing everyday black
culture from the bottom up. Migrating to New York, he reinvigorated
the English sonnet and helped spark the Harlem Renaissance with
poems such as "If We Must Die." After coming under scrutiny for his
communism, he traveled throughout Europe and North Africa for
twelve years and returned to Harlem in 1934, having denounced
Stalin's Soviet Union. By then, McKay's pristine "violent sonnets"
were giving way to confessional lyrics informed by his newfound
McKay's verse eludes easy definition, yet this complete
anthology, vividly introduced and carefully annotated by William J.
Maxwell, acquaints readers with the full transnational evolution of
a major voice in twentieth-century poetry.
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