The Heritage Series of Black Poetry, 1962-1975: A Research Compendium

The Heritage Series of Black Poetry, 1962-1975: A Research Compendium

The Heritage Series of Black Poetry, 1962-1975: A Research Compendium

The Heritage Series of Black Poetry, 1962-1975: A Research Compendium

Synopsis

In 1962, the Heritage Series of Black Poetry, founded and edited by Paul Breman, published Robert Hayden's A Ballad of Remembrance. By 1975, the Series had published 27 volumes by some of the twentieth-century's most important and influential poets. As elaborated in Lauri Ramey's extensive scholarly introduction, this innovative volume has dual purposes: To provide primary sources that recover the history and legacy of this groundbreaking publishing venture, and to serve as a research companion for scholars working on the Series and on twentieth-century black poetry. Never-before-published primary materials include Paul Breman's memoir, retrospectives by several of the poets published in the Series, a photo-documentary of W.E.B. Du Bois's 1958 visit to The Netherlands, poems by poets represented in the Series, and scholarly essays. Also included are bibliographies of the Heritage poets and of the Heritage Press Archives at the Chicago Public Library. This reference work is an essential resource for scholars working in the fields of black poetry, transatlantic studies, and twentieth-century book history.

Excerpt

In the 1960s and 1970s one of the most important publishing outlets for African American poetry was an unlikely venture run by a Dutchman in London. In the late 1940s, a young blues aficionado from Amsterdam named Paul Breman (b. 19 July 1931) “theorized” the existence of African American poetry before discovering it firsthand. He was first drawn to African American culture through the blues as a folk form, and particularly to the poetics of the blues lyrics. The transatlantic and crosscultural connection with American blues was intellectual as well as visceral in that geographical and historical context: “I had spent the war years, my college years, in Europe under the culturally rather isolating protection of the German occupational forces. Then, the blues hit me—” (Sixes and Sevens, 6). The blues hit much of the world at the end of World War II, and certainly America, with the rising paranoia of McCarthyism, the refusal of southern American culture to enforce the law where it applied to its African American citizens, the crumbling of the world’s former Empires, and Europe facing decades of rebuilding in the aftermath of the second Great War’s devastation. In some ways it is unsurprising that the great folk culture representing the suffering and survival of black Americans offered a metaphor for renewed meaning in the current state of the world.

Breman speculated that the emotion, imagery, and discipline evident in the blues inevitably would have led to the production of other art forms by “American Negroes” including “formal poetry.” He started searching for African American poetry while still a student at Amsterdam University, thinking that it would make a good thesis topic since virtually no information on the subject was available at the time. He never finished the degree, abandoning the academic life to become “a breadwinner” for his young family by working as an antiquarian book dealer. Breman eventually became the publisher of the Heritage Press, one of the longest surviving black poetry presses, which produced The Heritage Series in its impressive fourteen-year run.

Breman’s search for African American poetry initially led him to Rosey Pool (1905–1971),a Dutch Jewish woman who was lecturing on black poetry inAmsterdam at the end of World War II. Pool’s intolerance of racial discrimination based on her personal experience as a young Jewish intellectual during the Holocaust (her parents, brother and sister-in-law were murdered in the concentration camp at Sobibor), and identification with another oppressed group, triggered her interest in African American poetry. The identification was mutual, with many of her African American literary contacts feeling a bond with Pool through her parallel history, as a European Jew, of exclusion, prejudice and genocide. During and after World War II, African American oppression was increasingly seen as connected to international patterns of racial, ethnic and religious discrimination, partly the result of the approximately . . .

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