Monday, February 26, 2007

Two African American Poetry Anthologies

NOTE: Throughout this post, if you click on a poet's name, it will take you to the Academy of American Poets where you can read about their lives, their poetry, and in most cases listen to the poets read their own work.

I have two anthologies of African American poetry that I love to read. The first, I discovered in college: Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep, titled after the old African American Proverb. This is a collection of poets since 1945, and begins with selections from stalwarts Robert Hayden (one of my very favorite poets...see last week's post on Runagate Runagate for more) and Gwendolyn Brooks. It continues forward in chronological order to well-known poets like Audre Lorde and Rita Dove, and to talented younger poets like Cornelius Eady and Elizabeth Alexander.

Six years later, the same editors (poets Michael S. Harper and Anthony Walton) came out with a comprehensive volume containing 2 centuries worth of African American Poetry: The Vintage Book of African American Poetry. This book introduces us to African American poets from the 1800's like George Horton (who hoped to purchase his freedom from slavery through the sale of his poetry), and the early 1900's like Sterling Brown (who deserves many more blog posts all his own). It features classic favorites like Langston Hughes as well as modern and post-modern poets like Yusef Komunyakaa.

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.

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

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

I, too, am America.

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