African American Poetry

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Three key words that help open up African-American poetry have been adopt, adapt and adept: adopt the high classic forms of English poetry, as the slave child Phillis Wheatley began doing in Boston in the 18th Century.

Adapt modern forms from Hardy and Yeats, later Auden and Stevens to distinctly black meditations on slavery, justice and race heroes like Crispus Attucks and Frederick Douglas.

And then keep pushing toward the adept creation of an entirely new sound and style, using folk speech and blues forms. In celebration and imitation of musicians like John Coltrane and Muddy Waters. In mourning for innocent victims like Emmett Till.

Or in memory of stars like Thelonious Monk – until the feelings and the effects are both familiar and entirely distinctive in the oft-quoted voices of Gwendolyn Brooks and Robert Hayden, Amiri Baraka and the U. S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove.

A fresh take on African-American poetry-in this hour.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


Michael Harper, poet and professor at Brown University, and Anthony Walton, poet and professor at Bowdoin College and both editors of “The Vintage Book of African American Poetry.”