The middle generation Tolson Hayden and Brooks

The Harlem Renaissance only lasted about a decade. In the early 1930s, the Great Depression closed down most avenues of economic and cultural opportunity for black writers, who depended heavily on the support ofboth white and black patrons. Though Hughes continued to write poetry until the 1960s, the production of poetry by African Americans began to fall off in the early 1930s and by 1935 the Renaissance was over.

In the mid-1940s, a new generation of African American poets began to emerge. If the work of poets such as Melvin Tolson, Robert Hayden, and Gwendolyn Brooks did not constitute either a "renaissance" or a "movement," it was at least an important revival of poetry by black Americans. Unlike the poets of the Harlem Renaissance, these poets did not seek to form a group or to promote African American cultural institutions in a more general sense. Both Tolson and Hayden were strongly influenced by the modernist writing of Eliot, Crane, and Pound. In a 1949 speech, Tolson explicitly distanced his writing from that of the Harlem Renaissance. Declaring that the time had come for "a New Negro Poetry for the New Negro," he proposed that African American poets present a "rich heritage of folk lore and history" while using the techniques developed by Eliot, Pound, Williams, and other white poets; conspicuously absent from his list were the names of any black writers. Four years later, Allen Tate praised Tolson's work as the first instance of a black poet having "assimilated completely the full poetic language of his time . . . the language of the Anglo-American poetic tradition."

Tolson was actually four years older than Langston Hughes, but because of his later development as a poet he is considered to be part of the postRenaissance generation. Born in 1898 in Missouri, the son of a minister, he grew up is a succession of Missouri and Iowa towns. His family life was highly conducive to the study of literature and the arts: Tolson read voraciously, painted, and played in his family's musical gatherings. After attending Fisk University and Lincoln University (both all-black institutions), he taught at a black college in Texas and undertook a master's program at Columbia University, where he nearly completed a thesis on the writers of the Harlem Renaissance. In 1932, Tolson completed a book of poems, A Gallery of Harlem Portraits, that was never published during his lifetime. Tolson first achieved literary success when his poem "Dark Symphony" won a national contest sponsored by the American Negro Exposition of 1939. His first published volume, Rendezvous with America, followed in 1944. "Dark Symphony," with its formal structure based on a musical composition with six movements, set the tone for Tolson's formally rigorous and highly allusive later poems.

Tolson's most ambitious works were Libretto for the Republic of Liberia (1953) and Harlem Gallery, a projected long poem of which he only completed one out of five books by the time of his death in 1966. Both works have garnered high praise from critics but have found relatively few readers. Libretto, as David Perkins suggests, is made up of "metaphors, phrases in foreign languages, erudite puns, poeticisms, high rhetoric, motifs from black spirituals and blues, slang, and literary and historical allusions."8 Its style, heavily influenced by experimental modernism, combines syncopated rhythms with highly intellectual discussions. Tolson had in fact been named poet laureate of Liberia, a West African nation founded with the idea of establishing an African homeland for former slaves. Harlem Gallery, Tolson's epic, is at least equally complex. The poet Karl Shapiro, who wrote a foreword for the poem, described it as "a narrative work so fantastically stylized that the mind balks at comparisons." The published volume, Harlem Gallery, Book I: The Curator, is divided into twenty-four sections corresponding to the letters of the Greek alphabet. The book examines the role of the black artist in America through the eyes of its narrator, a Harlem art curator of "afroirishjewish" origins. As Rita Dove suggests in her introduction to Harlem Gallery and Other Poems, the curator's gallery allows him the opportunity "to observe the shenanigans of the black bourgeoisie" and to examine "the position of blacks - and most specifically the black artist - in a white-dominated society."9

Like Tolson, Robert Hayden began his career deeply under the influence of modernism, and especially of Eliot. Hayden grew up in the "Paradise Valley" ghetto of Detroit, Michigan. After attending Detroit City College, he researched black history and folklore for the Federal Writers' Project during the Depression, and studied with W. H. Auden at the University of Michigan in the early 1940s. Hayden's most important poem is "Middle Passage," a kind of epic in miniature. The poem tells the story of Cinquez, the captive African prince who inspired and helped carry out the mutiny aboard the slave ship Amistad. Chronologically, the action of the poem begins with the exodus of African peoples from their villages and takes them across the Atlantic Ocean on slave ships. The first part of the poem is a description of the inhumane treatment of Africans aboard various slave ships. The second part is the reminiscences of a retired slave-trader. And the climactic third part is a poetic recreation of the Amistad mutiny. The poem was much reworked over time, and was published in four different versions between 1941 and 1966. Stylistically, the poem owes a debt to

Eliot's techniques of fragmentation, allusion, and the use of different voices in The Waste Land.

Like Tolson and Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks was a product of the American midwest. Born in Kansas, she moved to Chicago soon after her birth and attended Wilson Junior College, meeting both James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes and writing a poetry column for the Chicago Defender. Less interested than either of Tolson or Hayden in imitating modernist models, Brooks published a first book of poems - A Street in Bronzeville (1945) -that provided a realistic portrayal of life in the black neighborhoods of Chicago. Using the long poem format as well as the shorter lyric, Brooks was consistent in presenting race as a public issue. Annie Allen (1949), a mock-epic in forty-three rhyming stanzas, was the first book of poems by an African American to win the Pulitzer Prize. Another long poem, "In the Mecca" (1968), depicts life in a Chicago slum building that was once an elegant apartment complex. In a short lyric like "We Real Cool" (1959), Brooks displays her gift for a formal compression that contributes to an ironic commentary on African American life.

Helping Your Child Learn To Read

Helping Your Child Learn To Read

When parents help their children learn to read, they help open the door to a new world. As a parent, you can begin an endless learning chain: You read to your children, they develop a love of stories and poems, they want to read on their own, they practice reading, and finally they read for their own information or pleasure. They become readers, and their world is forever expanded and enriched.

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