Thomas's poetry and criticism have helped to show the relationship of poetry to music in the 20th century. His works are infused with jazz influences and are a testament to the exploration of social, political, and economic culture in American society. As Thomas has said, "Poetry is one of the forms of music and always has been" (121). Thomas has wanted to produce poems that sound like the jazz music he has enjoyed by such artists as Lightnin' Hopkins, Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane, and Charles Mingus. He has also been influenced by poets Langston hughes, William Carlos williams, and Carl sandburg.
Thomas was born Panama. His family emigrated to New York when he was a child. In the 1960s and 1970s, he was active in what became known as the black arts movement that, as he said, brought "full maturity and strength and African song in American English, drawing upon the syntax of traditional proverbs and the tersely sentimental tone of Rhythm and Blues" (121). Thomas has taught at the University of Houston Downtown. He has twice won the Poets Foundation Award (1966 and 1974) and the Lucille Medwick Prize (1974).
Thomas's style is nonconformist insofar as it does not follow stylized patterns of rhyme and meter (see prosody and free verse). Some of his stanzas have sentences with one word, while others have up to 10 words. In his shorter sentences, he carefully chooses words whose syllables make for a short and punchy effect. He has the ability to make his words dance as each line, staggered in verse, can be read rhythmically. Reading the poems aloud allows for hearing the poems' intense beat. All of his poems contain themes of social and cultural woes in society.
In "Liquid City,"(1979), a slang term for Houston, ("liquid" is slang for petroleum) Thomas treats the city as a metaphor for American greed and materialism. A repeated stanza in the poem is "No Song," meaning that Houston makes money but fails to take care of its poor and to connect, like music, with the human spirit: "Glass is a shifting liquid stunned by flame and passersby; / a shame."
Saylor, Rita, ed. Liquid City: Houston Writers on Houston.
Houston: Corona Publishing, 1987. Thomas. Lorenzo. "Neo-Griots." In Extraordinary Measures: Afrocentric Modernism and Twentieth-Century American Poetry, edited by Charles Bernstein and Hank Lazer. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2000, p. 104.
--. "Poets on Poetry: Interview with Lorenzo Thomas,"
by Daniel Kane Writenet.org. Available on-line. URL: www.writenet.org/poetschat/poetschat_l_thomas.html. Downloaded December 13, 2001.
Yvette R. Blair
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