Langston Hughes: A Poet Supreme
Black poetry is poetry that (1) is grounded in the black experience; (2) utilizes black music as a structural or emulative model; and (3) "consciously" transforms the prevailing standards of poetry through and inconoclastic and innovative use of language.
No poet better carries the mantle of model and innovator the Langston Hughes, the prolific Duke Ellington of black poetry. Hughes's output alone is staggering. During his lifetime, he published over eight hundred poems. Moreover, he single-handedly defined "blues poetry" and is arguably the first major "jazz" poet. Early in his career he realized the importance of "reading" his poetry to ...view middle of the document...
Hughes realized that is was impossible to do what he wanted to do in one piece, so he composed a series of short poems that play effect off eachother. Western literacy thought values the long form, the novel in particular, as a statement of intellectual acheivement and implicity devalues short forms. For this reason a collection of short stories rarely recieves equal critical attention as does a novel by the same author. In order to make the long form stand out, the author is expected to demonstrate complexity of plot and character developement. But these and related concerns are simply a culturally biased valuation of a specific set of literacy devices, often at the expense of other devices (many of which center on the sounding of poetry on the page). In a very important sence, modern American poetry was moving toward painting, that is, a composition of words placed on a page, and away from music, that is, an articulation of words that have been both sense (meaning) and sound (emotion). Hughes clearly close to emphasize black music, which increasingly meant dealing with improvisation.
The improvisation is implied in that certain themes, rhymes and rhythmic patterns, and recurring images ebb and flow throughout Montage- here spelled out in detail, there hinted at, and in another instance turned on their head. The above-quoated letter indicated that Hughes was conscious of what he was doing, and it is this self-consciousness that marks this as a modern poem. Indeed, Montage is almost postmodern in its mosaic of voices and attitude contained in one piece.
Just as jazz simultaneously stresses the collective and the individual, Hughes component poems are each individual statements, but they are also part of a larger unit(y). Significantly, Hughes as an individual is de-emphasized in the work, even as various individual members of the community speak and are spoken about. In other words, Hughes becomes a medium, a sensitive and subtle medium, but a medium nonetheless. In a seemingly simple form, Hughes serves as a sounding board for the articulation of people who are usually voiceless.
The work's modernity is the self-reflective nature of all the voiced speaking, and in speaking, coming to consciouness of themselves and their environment. Time and time again we hear voices self-consciously grappling with their Harlem realities, which include an international awareness of African American, West Indian, and African bonding. In the African American context "modernity" specifically refers to the post-Reconstruction, nothern-oriented urbanization of African American life. No presixties black poet was more complete in expressing the black urban viewpoint than Hughes.
The ease with which Hughes voices the various personalities and points of view belies both complexity and progressiveness of his achievement. Because of the brevity of the poems, Hughes's points are often made in passing and require reflection in order to appreciate...