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Heroism in the New Black Poetry

Heroism in the New Black Poetry: Introductions and Interviews

D. H. Melhem
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Heroism in the New Black Poetry
    Book Description:

    D.H. Melhem's clear introductions and frank interviews provide insight into the contemporary social and political consciousness of six acclaimed poets: Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jayne Cortez, Haki R. Madhubuti, Dudley Randall, and Sonia Sanchez. Since the 1960s, the poet hero has characterized a significant segment of Black American poetry. The six poets interviewed here have participated in and shaped the vanguard of this movement. Their poetry reflects the critical alternatives of African American life -- separatism and integration, feminism and sexual identity, religion and spirituality, humanism and Marxism, nationalism and internationalism. They unite in their commitment to Black solidarity and advancement.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5813-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-9)

    A new poetry, strong and true, has been developing in this country. Energized by the constant quest in the Black community for emancipation and leadership, this poetry shares idealistic strains with the dominant culture and expresses the democratic intentions of American civilization. In response to decadence and isolation, it offers vigor and commonality, a cohesiveness both spiritual and heroic. The poets themselves, often describing the literature as “revolutionary,” view it as a politicized spiritual force.

    I use the wordheroismas extending the concept of leadership, by the stylistic appeal and content of the work and/or by the actions and...

  5. 1. GWENDOLYN BROOKS: Humanism and Heroism
    (pp. 11-39)

    In September 1971 Gwendolyn Brooks, appointed Distinguished Professor in the Arts by the City College of New York, commuted weekly from her home in Chicago to teach two poetry workshops. I recall her entering the classroom: alert, elegant, slim, her lustrous skin a deep brown, expressive eyes and hands like those in a painting by El Greco, a woman charged with enormous vitality. One was struck by the tonal range of her voice, by the intelligence, candid and ironic, that confronted the trite or insincere. When her first book,A Street in Bronzeville,was published in 1945, she had been...

  6. 2. DUDLEY RANDALL: The Poet as Humanist
    (pp. 41-83)

    “I never thought of myself as a leader,” says Dudley Randall in his soft, vibrant voice.¹ Yet the historical impact of Broadside Press, begun in Detroit in 1965 “without capital, from the twelve dollars I took out of my paycheck to pay for the first Broadside,”² attests to the modesty of his statement. Despite Randall’s “silence” between 1976 and 1980, when the Press foundered as a result of overgenerous publishing commitments and subsequent debt; despite his depression during those years (he wrote no poetry until April of 1980), Broadside Press—which now continues in the hands of Hilda and Donald...

  7. 3. HAKI R. MADHUBUTI (DON L. LEE): Prescriptive Revolution
    (pp. 85-131)

    Clarity of purpose directs the life of Haki Madhubuti. “I am a Black man, a man of Afrikan descent who writes. Writing picked me. I am not a born or trained writer.... I use writing as a weapon, offensively and defensively, to help raise the consciousness of myself and my people.”¹

    The introduction toEnemies: The Clash of Races(pp. iii-v) gives a moving account of the poet’s early years. Madhubuti was born Don Luther Lee on February 23,1942, in Little Rock, Arkansas; he grew up on Detroit’s Lower East Side and Chicago’s West Side, in severe poverty. Most of...

  8. 4. SONIA SANCHEZ: The Will and the Spirit
    (pp. 133-179)

    Dynamic: the word immediately describes Sonia Sanchez and her art. Petite, attractive, on the stage she seems to become physically larger. Born to Wilson L. and the late Lena (Jones) Driver on September 9, 1934, in Birmingham, Alabama, Sanchez was named Wilsonia after her father, who had wanted a boy. She has an older sister, Patricia; her half-brother, Wilson Driver, Jr., died in 1981.

    At the age of nine, Sanchez moved with her family to New York, where she attended elementary school, junior high, and George Washington High School. She was graduated from Hunter College in 1955. Selected for a...

  9. 5. JAYNE CORTEZ: Supersurrealist Vision
    (pp. 181-213)

    The development of Jayne Cortez into a major talent has been as dazzling a rise as one might have hoped but not clearly anticipated from her first volume,Pissstained Stairs and the Monkeyman’s Wares,in 1969. She came to poetry from acting and began writing in earnest in 1964. Her poems—banners and tributes—call to arms, to appreciation of political and artistic heroes and those of everyday Black life. Her fine ear for music, her dynamic imagery, and her disposition to orchestrate in a broad cultural span, both African and American, have led her social and political concerns into...

  10. 6. AMIRI BARAKA (LEROI JONES): Revolutionary Traditions
    (pp. 215-264)

    Since the early 1960s, the figure to be reckoned with in Black political life and art has been Amiri Baraka. Controversial, responsive to changing social ambience, he has articulated the riotous “language of the unheard” (to invoke Martin Luther King’s definition once again) within a vernacular and a new idiom of radical solutions. A founder of the Black Arts Movement of the sixties, he propounded a view that was, as the late Larry Neal put it, “radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates him from his community . . . the Black Arts Movement believes that your...

    (pp. 265-268)

    The six poets who vivify these pages have “straddled the whirlwind” of Black rage and ridden it into constructive courses. Their differing paths present a variety of options toward fulfilling the commitment they hold in common to Black pride, solidarity, social justice, and accomplishment. They epitomize the struggle which, despite more setbacks than victories since the 1950s and 1960s, continues undaunted. The ironic title of Alice Childress’s novelA Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich(1973), for example, is countered by its recurrent theme, “It’s a Nation Time,” which recalls the name of Baraka’s book of poems. These two poles...

  12. INDEX
    (pp. 269-280)