Saturday, November 19, 2016

For Monday: Last Readings--Johnson and Toomer

"You sang a race from wood and stone to Christ." (Johnson)

For Monday's class, read the following poems, our last readings for the semester:

* Johnson, "The White Witch," "The Color Sergeant," "O Black and Unknown Bards," "Go Down Death," "The Creation"
* Toomer, "Song of the Son," "Georgia Dusk," "The Blue Meridian"

Both Toomer and Johnson wanted to go beyond conventional European poetry and find something that reflected another language of race or identity. Johnson tried to tap into the deep well of folklore, writing poetry that shared in the language of the spirituals; Toomer, on the other hand, sought a mythic identity that ultimately transcended racial identity. As you read these powerful poems, consider the following ideas...

* As a non-believer, Johnson did not share the simple, naive faith of the spirituals--and yet he was deeply moved by them. Why do you think he evokes their sound and imagery throughout these poems? Why write of what you don't believe? 

* How does "O Black and Unknown Bards" echo Cullen's poem, "Yet Do I Marvel"? What question is each one asking, and what answers does Johnson provide? Related to this, why might this be a profoundly Marxist poem that echoes many of the sentiments of Hughes' late poems?

* How might "The White Witch" be a commentary on Harlem itself? Why might it foredoom the fate and optimism of the Renaissance?

* Toomer makes the opposite pilgrimage as many of the Renaissance poets: from Washington D.C., he returns to the South to find 'civilization' there. According to "Song of the Son," what does he find there? Can black poets of the Renaissance find an identity in the South many of them--or their parents--fled from?

* How might "Georgia Dusk" also be a version of "O Black and Unknown Bards"? Again, what inspires his own poetry in this very simple, yet timeless, atmosphere?

* How is "The Blue Meridian" an indictment of the city and of modern civilization itself? Why does he claim that modern man/woman, "cannot mix with the stuff upon our boards/As water with flour to make bread"? 

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