The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930-1946

By James Edward Smethurst | Go to book overview

4
I Am Black and I Have Seen Black Hands The Narratorial Consciousness and Constructions of the Folk in 1930s African-American Poetry

Remembering Nat Turner: The Dunbarian Heritage, the Reclamation of the Folk, and Diversity and Unity of 1930s African-American Poetry

Any argument for the coherence of poetry produced by African Americans during the 1930s has to contend with the formal and thematic variety of that poetry In his Negro Poetry and Drama ( 1937), Sterling Brown claimed that "contemporary Negro poets are too diverse to be grouped into schools." Nonetheless, Brown went on to divide poets between those influenced by the modernist "new poetry revival" (to which Brown applied the pejorative "so-called"), those "bookish" poets writing after the manner of Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite poets, and those who "have taken folk-types and folk-life for their province." Brown clearly did not conceive of these as mutually exclusive categories. While he may have implicitly disparaged the "new poetry" by the tag "so-called," he also criticized contemporary African-American poets who "have left uncultivated many fields opened by modern poetry." He went on to say that "almost as frequently they have been unaware of the finer uses of tradition." At the same time, Brown posited a neoromantic concept of poetic expression in which "one of the cardinal rules of modern poetry is that the poet should express his own view of life in his own way." This romantic subjectivity as an authorial stance remained at odds with most theoretical statements of American modernism (whether in the criticism, editorials, and manifestos of imagism in the 1910s, objectivism in the 1920S, or social realism in the 1930s) that emphasized an antiromantic objectivity,

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