The Literary Corner: Introduction to African American Poetry with Eugene Redmond—Part 2 (side b)

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Brooks B. Robinson: The literary corner and black writers of the world as he read of analysis and interpretations of black world literature. Today an introduction to Afro-American poetry with professor of English and Poet-In-Residence in Ethic Studies at California State University Sacramento, Eugene Redmond. Redmond has to his credit over 11 works in literature the most popular of which are Drum Voices, Mission of Afro-American Poetry, Janoa And The Green Stone, and River of Bones, Flesh and Blood. In part one of this introduction to Afro-American poetry, Redmond concluded his presentation with poet Lawrence Dunbar and the period immediately preceding the Harlem renaissance. Today he begins with the Harlem renaissance and concludes with poets of the 1970s.

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Eugene B. Redmond: The Harlem renaissance represented the first real peak, umm, and when I say peak I'm talking about, you know, media attention, the opening up of publishing outlets. Big, big white publishing houses for the first time in history opened their doors or their printing presses to, to a black writers. And also coincided with a broader cultural revival in Black America as well as in the United States, as well as in the world. And it was spirited on by Nationalists Movements in, in Europe and Africa. But the poets, the poets held the day. Poetry is a very restricted, brief form, it stresses the economy of language. You must go to the heart of the subject, you know in 2 or 3 lines. And so, people like Claude Mckay, Langston Hughes, County Cullen, Jean Tumor, uhh, lesser writers or lesser-known people. Anna VonTomps, Sterling Brown, and Spencer, Georgia Douglas Johnson. Splendid writers.

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Brooks B. Robinson: What about James Wellding Johnson?
Eugene B. Redmond: James Wellding Johnson? Fine poet, one of the older of the renaissance writers. He had already come to fruition as a poet, at least

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Eugene B. Redmond: and, and, and once they give this development at the turn of the century you know having written the very important, extremely important work "Lift Your Voice and Sing" in 1900 which was put to music by the brother Jay Rosemond Johnson and which was widely known in the United States as the Negro National Anthem later the Black National Anthem, right?
Brooks B. Robinson: Mmhh
Eugene B. Redmond: But, um, Jay Rosemond Johnson in addition to being a major, um, ah writer creator of the er, era, was also one of the chroniclers, one of the important chroniclers of the Harlem Renaissance, one of the people that recorded what occurred.
Brooks B. Robinson: Mmhh
Eugene B. Redmond: ah, who discussed it. The first important, umm, black literary critic.
Brooks B. Robinson: Mm hmm
Eugene B. Redmond: and the most important, ahh, um, ah, anthology of the era, the first anthology of African American poetry in English in the 20th Century, ah, in 1922, Book of American and World Poetry. {SPEAKER = unknown reading excerpt} The Creation by James Weldon Johnson "and God stepped out on space, and he looked around and said 'I'm lonely. I'll make me a world' And far as the eye of God could see, darkness covered everything; blacker than a hundred midnights down in a Cypress swamp. Then God smiled and the light broke, and the darkness rolled up on one side and the light stood shining on the other, and God said 'that good.' Then God reached out and took the light in his hands, and God rolled the light around in his hands, until he made the sun. And he set that sun ablazing in the heavens and the light that was left from making the sun God gathered up in a shining ball and flung against the darkness, dangling the night with the moon and stars. Then down between the darkness and the light, he hurled the world

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Brooks B. Robinson: Out of the Harlem Renaissance and into the forties and fifties, um, more formal kinds of Black, or Black American, African American, Afro-American poets, um, developed-- came onto the scene. People like Gwendolyn Brooks and so on.

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Eugene B. Redmond: Right. Sure. Gwendolyn Brooks interestingly enough had, had met James Weldon Johnson when she was a, a little girl, I think twelve years old, in a, in a like a church basement, you know, that was, typical. You know, you'd meet uh, a Hughes or a, a James Weldon Johnson or a Sterling Brown, you know, at a church social. You know, that's-- that's the way we, we made it. That's-- that's our training ground.

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And, uh, well yes, Gwendolyn Brooks wrote her first poem I think when she was around thirteen or so, uh, started writing. And um, the uh, the most honored black poet, uh, of all time, of course, was Brooks. The, the first to be honored, uh, at that official American level.

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Brooks B. Robinson: Mmhm.
Eugene B. Redmond: When in 1950 she won the Pulitzer Prize for Annie Allen. But, um, the thirties and forties and fifties were crucial decades for Afro-American poets, um. Lots of poetry was being written, but it was not reflected in book, published form, as, uh, say were the poems of the 1920s, you know. The, uh, the poets to emerge from this period, of course, were people like Frank Marshall Davis, um, Robert Hayden. Very fine, extremely brilliant and important. Hayden, Hayden should've gotten the Pulitzer a long time ago.

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Brooks B. Robinson: Mmhm.
Eugene B. Redmond: Um, you had M. Carl Holman, who was one of the founders of the Atlanta Der-- De-- Atlanta Daily World. Um, Gwendolyn Brooks, of course, uh, held sway during that day. Melvin Tolson, the first American poet to be made Poet Laureate of a foreign country. That was Liberia in the late forties, he was commissioned, you know, to write his centennial, uh, poetic, you know, uh, tribute.

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Brooks B. Robinson: Yes.
Eugene B. Redmond: And he came up with a fine piece called Libretto for the Republic of Liberia.

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Brooks B. Robinson: Now, some people, and you expressed the, the, um the importance of the thirties, forties, and fifties

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as, uh, key decades for African American poets.

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Some people consider that as a kind of calm before the storm, meaning the sixties.
Eugene B. Redmond:

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You had a, you had a interesting kind of gestation period in the, in the fifties, where you had people like Lance Jeffers,

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uh, Percy Johnston, uh, Jay Wright, Henry Dumas, uh, and many many others.

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Uh, Leroy Jonas and Clarence Major. Ted Joans, J-O-A-N-S.

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Uh, you had, uh, Bob Kaufman, the brilliant poet who helped make "the Beat" era.

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He, uh, he wrote from San Francisco primarily, posing, citing a book called "Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness."

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You had Russell Atkins.

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These were the germinating forces. As, as, the decade of the fifties made a turn into the sixties. Right.

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And, then, of course you have the early sixties people. Uh, very important writers,

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who, formed kind of a gestation base for, the later, writers of the later sixties.

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People like Larry Neil and Liberator Magazine, Diana Clark and uh, Freedom Raid Magazine.

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Again, Negro Digest before it became Black Royalty, 1970, with Hart Fuller and Hamilton Bems.

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Julia Fields was writing. Mario Evans was writing.

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So you had this period, um, in the 9th, in the era of the 1960s, uh, where again, the literary expressions reflected the social turbulence of the time.

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So, a lot, a lot of the ponds that were what- civil rights, freedom rides, you know, sit-ins, the march on Washington, jobs and freedom. Okay

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black and white together we shall overcome.

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But then of course, around 1965, with Watts and Newark and Harlem and St. Louis and Dallas.

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Detroit, something else occurred.

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The writers who had been associated with Snake and Corps, and NAACP Youth Council, and so on,

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took to the streets. Literally, to the streets.

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They been in the streets but then they started forming their own organi.....

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Eugene B. Redmond: These writers, who are apprentice of shock troops with, uh, you know.

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These, these traditional civil rights organizations, started to develop their own, uh, you know, various groups,

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paramilitary units, um, um, Black Arts, groups, clubs, organizations.

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Um, ideological enclaves, um, workshops, uh, thought sessions

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where they developed new, new mythologies, uh, new legends, new ideas, and uh.

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So, what you had, was what we called, now, The black Arts Movement. The Black Arts Movement,

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And the key figures there, of course, were Roland Snellings, now known as Askia M. Toure,

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Larry Neal, Ed Bullings, LeRoi Jones we mentioned now known as Amiri Baraka,

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Don L. Lee now known as Haki R. Madhubuti.

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Uh, stemming from these, various organization, some of them, um, outlined against what Neal called a panorama of violence,

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were of course, the, the new, uh, literary, um factories. You know.

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Places where, where books were published, magazines were published. Poster ponds were published, uh.

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Older books reissued. Such as what, such as what, Third World Press is doing. And, in the situation like with Chancellor Williams, you know. or Archeek Antigiop

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Brooks B. Robinson:

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In the kind of summary way, we, are now in the 70s, almost into the 80s.

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Um, who are some of the prominent writers in the 70s, Black or African American poets of the 70s?

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And, uh, some that are coming unto the scene that are new, that, most, our audience might not be familiar with?
Eugene B. Redmond:

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Sure, okay. Some of the uh, some of the writers who are prominent, of course, are the names I have already mentioned, you know.

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And you had, uh, different wings, uh, veering off from this idea of black expression.

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Uh, some writers, then, subscribed exclusively to the idea of black aesthetics.

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Eugene B. Redmond: Gwendolyn Brooks still writing. You have a Jay Wrights still writing. You have a Mari Evans, a Julia Feels[?], a June Jordan, the "Things I do in the Dark" she was the title of her latest book still writing.

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You have younger writers like E Ethelbert Miller at Howard University. You have a Jodi Braxton, "Sometimes I Think of Maryland" is the name of her book. You have a fine young women poet named Elouise Loftin, "Jumbish" naming one of her works.

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We have literally developed the idea to the point the idea of a black writer to the point that little children are beginning to think more naturally about writing as a career about being a poet.

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When I was a child, black and poet didn't go together, they rarely went together and historically the words black and poet

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Brooks B. Robinson: Or black and writer

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Eugene B. Redmond: Or black and writer have not gone together, you know, have not been a comfortable thing. Now, they have always been there because black people have always gone and heard the poet in church,

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the poet in the blues hall,

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the poet in the barber shop,

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the poet in the beauty shop,

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the poet in the pool room,

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the poet on the corner,

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the poet in the corn field

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Brooks B. Robinson: The poets everywhere

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Eugene B. Redmond: The poet driving spikes, you know right driving cabs, but in the packing house, you know, slaughtering hogs, but we had to spell it out so that,

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they Grio-poet, oral historian all the same, they are all the same.

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Brooks B. Robinson: I Can Never Unlove You

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To not want is to not exist

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It is to be de-minded

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It is to be disembodied

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Is to be dis-impersoned

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and float like an apparition

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Into the none where

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Into the grey whim of limbo

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And that is why I can never unlove you

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Why I can never disemantle

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Eugene B. Redmond: Is to be made breathless by outside strictures and mod in known sun, like a drunken lizard A sliverless drip on the echo of love

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On the back of some nomadic breeze On the coattail of sanity

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And that is why I can never unlove you why I can never unnotice the flames you forged Why I can never unloose my eyes from their aim

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I can never unlove you Though I can relove you before another moment I can never unneed you Though I can regrieve the night stained carresses

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I can never not want you Though I can recry the oldest ocean I can never unlove you

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Unlove you, never Unlove you, never Unlove you, never

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Brooks B. Robinson: I Can Never Unlove You by Black American Poet Eugene Redmond. You heard the second of a two part introduction to Afro-American poetry on the Literary Corner of Black Writers of the World. Technical assistance provided by Bob Chan, Brooks Robinson.

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The Literary Corner was made possible by funds from WHA radio, Madison, Wisconsin. A service of the University of Wisconsin Extension.