Born in Missouri in 1902, Langston grew up to be one of the most well-known poets/writers of the 20th century. Focusing on Hughes in this post will definitely be a different direction than Ezra Pound, as Hughes wrote more than just poetry, (Novels, short stories, essays, and plays) along with the influence of jazz and black folk rhythms in his work. He is also known for his influential work in the Harlem Renaissance.
Hughes published his first poem in 1921, titled “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, (in my opinion) a beautiful poem where he captures the African American’s historical journey to America. He utilizes great metaphor and racial romanticism in lines of the poem, like “My soul has grown deep like the rivers”, comparing the rivers African Americans traveled on to the roots of his heritage in his blood.
This poem, among others, are prime examples of how Hughes contributed to the Harlem Renaissance, which occurred in the 1920s to the mid-1930s. Not only did his poetry bring this important renaissance to light, but he also took his time to stand up for black artists as well. His main focus was uplifting black artists and their work through his poems, by incorporating jazz and a black perspective.
“He sought to honestly portray the joys and hardships of working-class black lives, avoiding both sentimental idealization and negative stereotypes.”Poetry Foundation – Click here to read more about Hughes
After reflecting on Langston Hughes poetry, I began to compare him to that of Ezra Pound. It is quite obvious that on the outside, these two men have little in common, as their looks and writing styles were both extremely different, and they contributed very different concepts to the movement of poetry. However, I saw a similar tie between the way they both held conflict in their poems–they were both political and related to the frustrations of their personal world. After doing some research, I found that Pound and Hughes actually sent letters to one another throughout their careers, and thought very highly of one another; so this must have tied their writing together somehow. Yes, their reasons for political conflict in their writing was different, but I observed a similarity of conflict and tension held in both their poems, a similarity if you will. (I also found it interesting that Pound was put in a mental institution for support of Italian fascism, and Hughes was once brought to the Senate for his sympathy with Communism)
One way they hold conflict in their writing is through the language. Pound is known for utilizing Latin and Italian a lot in his writing, which helped emphasize certain points of his. (Mostly in Cantos) Hughes did something similar; he still utilized English, but he incorporated many aspects of Jazz and black folk rhythms. Here is a great example of this in his well-known poem: “The Weary Blues”, where he set blues lyrics to a poem from a song he learned as a child.
These rhythms and lyrics added to the poems enhanced the tension within the poem. Not only do the lyrics make it more unique to poetry in its time, but it also shows a sense of isolation and abandonment that Hughes was trying to convey from this own experience. This is where I found the most common ground with both Ezra and Langston; for both of them felt isolated at some point in their lives, and both poets held that tension and feeling of isolation within their poems, but in extremely different ways.
After reading many examples of Langston Hughes’s poetry, I found that incorporating black folk rhythm and jazz into an example poem of mine may be inaccurate or inappropriate. So instead, I decided to utilize his tools of metaphor, repetition, and free flow to write a poem adapting to his style. I also tried to utilize my political beliefs as both Pound and Hughes would aim to do. This poem I wrote is called “Build”
In my next blog post, I will be focusing on Nikki Giovanni, a wonderful female poet that I am excited to research.
Poetry Foundation, editor. “Langston Hughes.” Poetryfoundation.com, 2019 Poetry Foundation, 2019, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/langston-hughes. Accessed 27 Feb. 2019.
Kettler, Sara. “Langston Hughes Impact on the Harlem Renaissance.”
Biography.com, edited by Biography.com, A&E Television Networks, 4 Jan. 2019, http://www.biography.com/news/langston-hughes-harlem-renaissance. Accessed 27 Feb. 2019.
3ChicsPolitico. Langston Hughes. Newsroom.ucla.edu, UCLA, 10 Sept. 2015, newsroom.ucla.edu/dept/faculty/ oct-28:-langston-hughes-ask-your-mama:-twelve-moods-of-jazz. Accessed 27 Feb. 2019.
Roessel, David. “‘A RACIAL ACT’: THE LETTERS OF LANGSTON HUGHES AND EZRA POUND.” JSTOR, National Poetry Foundation, 2000, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24726861?seq=4#metadata_info_tab_contents. Accessed 27 Feb. 2019.
Coburn, Alvin Langdon. Ezra Pound. 1913. Library of America, Literary Classics of the US inc., 2017, http://www.loa.org/writers/103-ezra-pound. Accessed 27 Feb. 2019.
Rampersad, Arnold. “Langston Hughes’s Fine Clothes to The Jew.” JSTOR, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2931083?seq=4#metadata_info_tab_contents. Accessed 27 Feb. 2019.