First up today is one of the leading poets of what has come to be known as the "Harlem Renaissance" - Langston Hughes. For me, Langston Hughes's poetry weaves magic by weaving together the music of jazz and blues with poetry. His work, more than any one else's that I post this month, has to be read aloud to enjoy at its fullest.

"We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves." - Langston Hughes (The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, 1926; as quoted here.)

I stay cool, and dig all jive,
That's the way I stay alive.
My motto,
as I live and learn,
is
Dig and be dug
In return.
 - Langston Hughes


http://hennessyhistory.wikispaces.com/file/view/langston_hughes.jpg/76865075/langston_hughes.jpg
James Mercer Langston Hughes (Born: February 1 1902, Joplin, MO – Died: May 22 1967, NYC, NY)

Without much adieu, let me lead you to five of his poems.


Dreams
by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.


Dream Variations        
by Langston Hughes

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
    Dark like me--
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance!  Whirl!  Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
    Black like me.


I, Too, Sing America        
by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
Then.

Besides,
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America.


Let America Be America Again 
by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!


Po' Boy Blues        
by Langston Hughes

When I was home de
Sunshine seemed like gold.
When I was home de
Sunshine seemed like gold.
Since I come up North de
Whole damn world's turned cold.

I was a good boy,
Never done no wrong.
Yes, I was a good boy,
Never done no wrong,
But this world is weary
An' de road is hard an' long.

I fell in love with
A gal I thought was kind.
Fell in love with
A gal I thought was kind.
She made me lose ma money
An' almost lose ma mind.

Weary, weary,
Weary early in de morn.
Weary, weary,
Early, early in de morn.
I's so weary
I wish I'd never been born

You can read more of his poems through the Poetry Foundation's amazing website and read more about his poems at the Univ. of Illinois Modern American Poetry website.

Next up is Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize since its establishment in 1917, winning it in 1950 for her second book of poems, Annie Allen.

I have said that many people do feel that there is something strange about being a writer and about being content to remain a writer. On the other hand I have said that I do not feel apart from other people. I am an ordinary human being who is impelled to write poetry. - Gwendolyn Brooks (1967)

I am tired of little tight-fisted poems sitting down to
shape perfect unimportant pieces.
Poems that cough lightly -- catch a sneeze.
This is the time for Big Poems

roaring up out of the sleaze,
poems from ice, from vomit, and from tainted blood.
        - Gwendolyn Brooks (Winnie, 1988)
http://www.robinsonlibrary.com/linguistics/american/1900/graphics/brooks-g.jpg
Gwendolyn Brooks (Born: June 7 1917, Topeka, KS – Died: December 3 2000, Chicago, IL)

Five poems by Gwendolyn Brooks:

Sadie and Maud
by Gwendolyn Brooks


Maud went to college.
Sadie stayed home.
Sadie scraped life
With a fine toothed comb.

She didn't leave a tangle in
Her comb found every strand.
Sadie was one of the livingest chicks
In all the land.

Sadie bore two babies
Under her maiden name.
Maud and Ma and Papa
Nearly died of shame.

When Sadie said her last so-long
Her girls struck out from home.
(Sadie left as heritage
Her fine-toothed comb.)

Maud, who went to college,
Is a thin brown mouse.
She is living all alone
In this old house.


The Good Man
by Gwendolyn Brooks


The good man.
He is still enhancer, renouncer.
In the time of detachment,
in the time of the vivid heather and affectionate evil,
in the time of oral
grave grave legalities of hate - all real
walks our prime registered reproach and seal.
Our successful moral.
The good man.

Watches our bogus roses, our rank wreath, our
love's unreliable cement, the gray
jubilees of our demondom.
Coherent
Counsel! Good man.
Require of us our terribly excluded blue.
Constrain, repair a ripped, revolted land.
Put hand in hand land over.
Reprove
the abler droughts and manias of the day
and a felicity entreat.
Love.
Complete
your pledges, reinforce your aides, renew
stance, testament.


To Be In Love
by Gwendolyn Brooks

To be in love
Is to touch with a lighter hand.
In yourself you stretch, you are well.
You look at things
Through his eyes.
A cardinal is red.
A sky is blue.
Suddenly you know he knows too.
He is not there but
You know you are tasting together
The winter, or a light spring weather.
His hand to take your hand is overmuch.
Too much to bear.
You cannot look in his eyes
Because your pulse must not say
What must not be said.
When he
Shuts a door-
Is not there_
Your arms are water.
And you are free
With a ghastly freedom.
You are the beautiful half
Of a golden hurt.
You remember and covet his mouth
To touch, to whisper on.
Oh when to declare
Is certain Death!
Oh when to apprize
Is to mesmerize,
To see fall down, the Column of Gold,
Into the commonest ash.


The Boy Died in My Alley
by Gwendolyn Brooks


to Running Boy

The Boy died in my alley
without my Having Known.
Policeman said, next morning,
"Apparently died Alone."

"You heard a shot?" Policeman said.
Shots I hear and Shots I hear.
I never see the Dead.

The Shot that killed him yes I heard
as I heard the Thousand shots before;
careening tinnily down the nights
across my years and arteries.

Policeman pounded on my door.
"Who is it?" "POLICE!" Policeman yelled.
"A Boy was dying in your alley.
A Boy is dead, and in your alley.
And have you known this Boy before?"

I have known this Boy before.
I have known this boy before, who ornaments my alley.
I never saw his face at all.
I never saw his futurefall.
But I have known this Boy.

I have always heard him deal with death.
I have always heard the shout, the volley.
I have closed my heart-ears late and early.
And I have killed him ever.

I joined the Wild and killed him
with knowledgeable unknowing.
I saw where he was going.
I saw him Crossed.  And seeing,
I did not take him down.

He cried not only "Father!"
but "Mother!
Sister!
Brother."
The cry climbed up the alley.
It went up to the wind.
It hung upon the heaven
for a long
stretch-strain of Moment.

The red floor of my alley
is a special speech to me.

And I'll leave you with a really powerful poem by Brooks that I really enjoyed reading. This link provides a little bit more about the history of the poem.

by Gwendolyn Brooks


I
AS SEEN BY DISCIPLINES

There they are.
Thirty at the corner. 
Black, raw, ready.
Sores in the city
that do not want to heal.

II
THE LEADERS

Jeff. Gene. Geronimo. And Bop.
They cancel, cure and curry.
Hardly the dupes of the downtown thing 
the cold bonbon,
the rhinestone thing. And hardly
in a hurry.
Hardly Belafonte, King,
Black Jesus, Stokely, Malcolm X or Rap. 
Bungled trophies.
Their country is a Nation on no map.

Jeff, Gene, Geronimo and Bop
in the passionate noon,
in bewitching night
are the detailed men, the copious men.
They curry, cure,
they cancel, cancelled images whose Concerts 
are not divine, vivacious; the different tins 
are intense last entries; pagan argument;
translations of the night.

The Blackstone bitter bureaus
(bureaucracy is footloose) edit, fuse
unfashionable damnations and descent;
and exulting, monstrous hand on monstrous hand, 
construct, strangely, a monstrous pearl or grace.

III
GANG GIRLS

A Rangerette

Gang Girls are sweet exotics.
Mary Ann
uses the nutrients of her orient,
but sometimes sighs for Cities of blue and jewel 
beyond her Ranger rim of Cottage Grove. 
(Bowery Boys, Disciples, Whip-Birds will 
dissolve no margins, stop no savory sanctities.)

Mary is
a rose in a whiskey glass.

Mary’s
Februaries shudder and are gone. Aprils 
fret frankly, lilac hurries on.
Summer is a hard irregular ridge.
October looks away.
And that’s  the Year!
Save for her bugle-love. 
Save for the bleat of not-obese devotion.
Save for Somebody Terribly Dying, under
the philanthropy of robins. Save for her Ranger 
bringing
an amount of rainbow in a string-drawn bag. 
“Where did you get the diamond?” Do not ask: 
but swallow, straight, the spirals of his flask 
and assist him at your zipper; pet his lips
and help him clutch you.

Love’s another departure.
Will there be any arrivals, confirmations? 
Will there be gleaning?

Mary, the Shakedancer’s child
from the rooming-flat, pants carefully, peers at her laboring lover ...
Mary! Mary Ann!
Settle for sandwiches! settle for stocking caps!
for sudden blood, aborted carnival,
the props and niceties of non-loneliness—
the rhymes of Leaning.

P.S. Here is something Gwendolyn Brooks wrote about Langston Hughes in 1986 while reviewing his biography in the NYT. It seems, Langston Hughes encouraged a young Ms. Brooks, thus:...
Ms. Brooks published her first poem, ''Eventide,'' in American Childhood when she was 13. Prompted by her mother, the teenager sent her poems to Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson. Mr. Hughes, who would become her friend and longtime supporter, wrote back: ''You have talent. Keep writing! You'll have a book published one day.'' Mr. Johnson also responded with encouragement, urging her to read such modern poets as Wallace Stevens, e.e. cummings and T. S. Eliot. By the age of 16, Ms. Brooks had become a regular contributor to the ''Lights and Shadows'' column of The Chicago Defender, where many of her earliest poems appeared.

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