Folk Idiom in the Literary Expression
of Two African American Authors:
Rita Dove and Yuset Komunyakaa
Kirkland C. Jones
Many of the younger African American writers will admit that they have been influenced by such figures as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, an influence that may be seen clearly through the types of language these younger poets select as vehicles for their ideas. Hughes "Simple Tales" catalogs the speech habits of the everyday, working-class black man, which are similar to the kind of speech patterns Hurston displays in her book The Sanctified Church, a posthumous collection of essays on African American folk language, folk lore, and popular mythology. Both of these works, along with most of what their respective authors have published, provide a great deal of insight into the speech patterns of black America, rural and urban, and have preserved these speech customs for posterity. Similarly, Yusef Komunyakaa and Rita Dove to a lesser extent have adapted particular forms of African American speech to impart vitality and humor to their works. Both of these young authors use language that may be described, à la Toni Cade Bambara, as the speech of "blacksouth folks" ( 1981:7).
Hurston understood how fundamental black speech is to African American literary expression and that dialect, as authors use it, influences not only form but message as well. She wrote in her essay "Characteristics of Negro Expression": "The Negro's universal mimicry is not so much a thing in itself as an evidence of something that permeates his entire self. And that thing is drama. His very words are action words. His interpretation of the English language is in terms of pictures. One act described in terms of another. Hence the rich metaphor and simile" ( 1981:49). Both Komunyakaa and Dove, like many other authors of