One of the most recent poets we focused on in class was Langston Hughes. Even though I have studied some of Hughes’ work in past years, I thoroughly enjoyed reading his poetry again for Humanities class. For me Langston Hughes has always been one of those writers that I naturally find myself gravitating toward. I find his somewhat simplistic style and beliefs as a writer to be refreshing and inspiring. His role in the New Negro Movement or The Harlem Renaissance as it most commonly known, bought forth a new aesthetic and understanding for blacks during this time. Instead of desperately displaying his talents to be just as good as his white counterparts, Hughes instead found a more “powerful political tool” by using realities of black-life as his basis. In doing so he provided a “sense of racial identity and shared experience.” (American Literature, p.110) For instance in his poem Mother to Son, the familiarity of ones mother sharing and ultimately teaching her child makes the poem relatable and personal.
I entirely agree with his version of “race improvements” (American Literature, p.110), in which he thought it better to appeal to the black masses by using words more familiar to black culture. This also refers to Hughes’ immersion of blues and jazz rhythm in his poetry. His usage of this rhythm is another example of connecting with his people. He once made this statement: “I tried to write poems like the songs they sang on seventh street.” (Academy of American Poets, p.1) Unfortunately searching the Internet for Hughes reciting one of his poems was a less successful task then expected, I did however, manage to find an clip of actor Danny Glover reading Ballad of Roosevelt (Figure 1). In this poem he criticizes FDR’s broken promises. It is a perfect display of Hughes’ ability to merge “traditional verse” with “black artistic forms like blues and jazz.” (O.E.R. Commons, p. 1)
Out of all three of the poems in the American Literature book my favorite was “Dream Variations.” I interpreted the poem as a dream of equality. The first stanza Hughes writes about being able to just be and live, no matter whoever (whites) is around. This stanza represented the dream he had, as the wording seemed more organic and soft, hence dream-like. The second stanza was the poet’s reality. The sentences were in a command form such as “Dance! Whirl! Whirl!” and eliminating words like “Then” in line 14 also supports this command theme. I profoundly respect how Hughes chooses to embrace his blackness and spread his notions in such a strait forward way.
Academy of American Poets. “Langston Hughes the songs on Seventh street.” http://www.poets.org/viewmedia, Safari. January 2010
American Literature. New York: Pearson, 2010
OER Commons. “Waitin’ on Roosevelt.” http://www.oercommons.org/libraries/waitin-on-roosevelt. Safari. January 2010