Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(2.3) African-American Poetry


- historically the oldest of ethnic poetries and the first to gain national importance

- traditionally the most radical of ethnic poetries and the most hostile to American culture and literature

- determined by the fact that unlike other ethnic minorities African-Americans did not came to America deliberately

- underlying subjects: longing for freedom, struggle for civil rights, criticism of racial discrimination

- influential in contributing to the mainstream culture with the oral folk tradition, the spiritual, and secular song


18th Century

Phillis Wheatley (1753-84)

> Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773): the first collection by an African-American poet, though conventional in form and content, published in London

19th Century

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1900)

- combines Anglo-Saxon and African-American poetic forms and language

- majors: poems in standard English

- minors: pioneer poems in African-American dialect, influenced by blues rhythms

> ‘We Wear the Mask’: his famous genteel poem

1920s Harlem Renaissance

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)

- moderate social activist

W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963)

- radical political activist

Langston Hughes (1902-67)

- popularized blues rhythms in poetry

> ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’: introduces the subject of searching for one’s black identity

Countee Cullen (1903-46)

- called the ‘black John Keats’, conservative in form and content

> ‘Yet Do I Marvel’: preoccupied with the dilemmas of a black poet

Claude McKay (1889-1948)

- conservative in form but radical in content

> ‘If We Must Die’: combines the traditional sonnet form with a radical military content

Jean Toomer (1894-1967)

> Cane (1923): portrays the racist American South, combines poetry, prose, and drama

1960s: The Second Renaissance

- the Supreme Court abolishes the Jim Crow Laws (1896) as an outcome of the trial of Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka (1954) and makes segregation of white and black population illegal

- Civil Rights Movement (1955-68): introduces nonviolent protests led by Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X

- Black Arts Movement (1965): supports African-American radical nationalists in their struggle against whites

- emergence of the ethno-centric concept of an autonomous black culture independent from the white America

- African-American feminism: parallel to Black Arts Movement, struggle against patriarchal structures and violence on the part of whites as well as blacks, opening taboo topics (sexuality, childbirth, domestic violence, etc.)

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

- called ‘the female version of Paul Dunbar’

- in her early poetry preoccupied with slum life

- since 1960s wrote more radical poetry both in free verse and traditional forms

> Annie Allen (1949): won her the Pulitzer Prize and made her the first African-American to ever receive this prize

> ‘We Real Cool’: portrays tough street gang teenagers in slang language

> ‘The Bean Eaters’: portrays an elderly couple bending over their beans in a messy hired back room

> ‘The Second Sermon on the Warpland’ (1968): contains the famous ‘furious flower’ quote which became the motto for the Furious Flower Conference of African-American poets of 1994 that was formally dedicated to Brooks

Amiri Baraka (b. 1934 as LeRoi Jones)

- poet, playwright, music critic and historian

- 1960s: began as a bohemian poet writing formally loose verse influenced by the beat generation

- 1965: became one of the leaders of the Black Arts Movement

- 1970s: concentrated on an open fight against the imperialist powers from the position of a left-wing devotee

> Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note (1961): his first poetry collection

> The Dead Lecturer (1964): his second poetry collection

> Blues People (1963): a book on music history defining the African-American tradition of jazz and blues as independent from European music

> Dutchman (1964): a one-act play on the violent conflict between blacks and whites

> ‘Black Art’: an extremist poem defending a violent action against the white American establishment and calling for ‘poems that kill’

> ‘Somebody Blew Up America’: a controversial poem misinterpreted as a defence of the 11th Sept 2001 attacks

Yusef Komunyakaa (b. 1947)

- poet, editor, essayist, the most critically successful of African-American poets, winner of the Pulitzer Prize (1994)

- writes in the confessional mode but with strikingly original images, dense language, and syntactic tension

- influenced by blues and jazz rhythms, also by his experience as a war correspondent in Vietnam

> ‘My Father’s Loveletters’: portrays the difficult life with a violent father who dictates to his literate son letters for his wife who ran away from him

> ‘Tu Do Street’: shows the racism present in the American army even in the Vietnam War

> ‘Facing It’: describes the contradictory feelings of an African-American Vietnam veteran visiting the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., reading the names of victims engraved in black granite, and being ignored by a white fellow veteran

> Dien cai dau (1988): a poetry collection on the Vietnam War, considered the best American poetry on the subject

Etheridge Knight (1931-91)

- started writing lyric poetry when serving a term in prison

> ‘Idea of Ancestry’: muses over the 47 photographs of his family members hanging on the wall of his cell and identifies himself with them

Dudley Randall (1914-200)

- poet and owner of an alternative publishing house important as a platform for radical Black Arts poets as well as for more moderate African-American authors

> ‘A Poet is not a Jukebox’

Michael S. Harper (b. 1938)

- a poet of African-American history presented so as to disturb the white conscience

> ‘American History’: recalls two different tragic events which both led to deaths of innocent African-Americans

June Jordan (1936-2002)

- a radical feminist poet drawing on her experience of an oppressed and humiliated African-American women

- preoccupied with search for identity and motifs of rape, typically uses free verse performance form

> ‘Poem about My Rights’: a militant indictment of American racism, male chauvinism, and violence on women

Lucille Clifton (b. 1936)

- a moderate feminist celebrating the African-American womanhood in simple poetry written in dialect

> ‘What the Mirror Said’

Základní údaje

  • Předmět

    North American Poetry 1945 - 2002.
  • Semestr

    Letní semestr 2008/09.
  • Vyučující

    Jiří Flajšar.
  • Status

    Volitelný seminář pro III. blok.


Flajšar, Jiří. Dějiny americké poezie. Ústí nad Orlicí: Oftis, 2006.

Jařab, Josef. American Poetry and Poets of Four Centuries. Praha: SPN, 1989.

Jařab, Josef, ed. Dítě na skleníku. Praha: Odeon, 1989.


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