Sunday, April 3, 2016

Harlem Renaissance Poems - A Blog Post

For the poetry project, my group chose to do the poems “I, Too” by Langston Hughes, “America” by Claude McKay, and “Incident” by Countee Cullen. After my group was assigned the project, Ani suggested a couple poems she had liked to Eric and I. Two poems of what she suggested were both written by poets from the Harlem Renaissance. From then on, we decided to find another poem to match the theme we had found.

I was really drawn to "America" by Claude McKay because of his spherical perspective all throughout the poem. He examines America from multiple perspectives. Because McKay narrates the poem from his own perspective using his own experiences, he ultimately creates a successful poem that is respectful to America without hiding the truth or using euphemisms. The intense sensory images used in this poem creates an impactful and heart-felt experience for the reader.

In class we connected the overarching theme of being a black person in America which arises in all the poems to the novel
The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
In the post, I made another different connection that I wanted to share.
I thought of the transcendentalism unit we studied near the beginning of the year, specifically Emerson and Thoreau. Hughes, McKay, and Cullen all used details of experiences and their personal perceptions of it, very much like Emerson and Thoreau. Transcendentalists loved to write about their own experiences and let descriptions of their perceptions of events and their thoughts influence others. Emerson reflects upon the meaning his daily activities while Thoreau writes about his experiences going "off the map". Both authors attempt to provide insight about life to their audiences: Emerson on self-belief, self-confidence, and ultimately self-reliance, and Thoreau on the benefits of isolation. 

McKay tries to influence his readers similarly through his experiences of being a black man in the United States. He does not describe one single experience but uses intense imagery: "Although she feeds me bread of bitterness, / And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth, / Stealing my breath of life, I will confess / I love this cultured hell that tests my youth." He ends the poem with, "Darkly I gaze into the days ahead, / And see her might and granite wonders there, / Beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand, / Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand." He shows his audience that despite the all the racism in America, if people worked hard enough and devoted their time to their cause, they can ultimately make America a better place. He has faith in America's future. As an audience, his imagery definitely strikes me, and the message demonstrated through this message definitely makes me reflect on my own identity as an Asian-American and the oppressions I've faced, as well as what I can do it improve America.

In "I, Too", Hughes also uses the imagery to describe his experience. Hughes describes, "I am the darker brother. / They send me to eat in the kitchen / When company comes, / But I laugh, / And eat well, / And grow strong. // Tomorrow, / I'll be at the table / When company comes." He states that, though today, people are looking down on him because he is black, he will work hard to change his place in society. At the end of the poem, he says, "I, too, am America." He believes that he is just as much as American as anyone else. This notion can provide reaffirmation to the reader, hence lead the reader to reflect in deep thought about their role in society as well. I think that Hughes also encourages his fellow black Americans to work hard in order stand up tomorrow in society through this poem.

Finally, Cullen's poem "Incident" illustrates a bad childhood summer experience. This experience is narrated in the second stanza. The blatant racism Cullen experienced in the poem shocks the reader. His reflections of how that event affected him can be seen in the third stanza: "I saw the whole of Baltimore / From May until December; Of all the things that happened there / That's all that I remember." Out of everything that happened that summer, the only thing he remembered was this probably careless incident (the other kid seemed to have done it as a joke: "poked out his tongue"). Careless actions can have detrimental impacts to someone's life, so detrimental that he even wrote about it years later. Cullen's awful experience has certainly made me think about my careless comments, and I think that I could say the same for other readers.

All of these writers utilized descriptions of experiences in order to improve the world in some way, and I think that truly shows the power of literature.

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