Sunday, October 17, 2010

First poem of the week retired

I chose the first poem of the week, Langston Hughes' Jazzonia, simply because my son has a classmate at daycare named Langston, and I realized when I met Langston, the toddler, that I didn't really know much about Langston, the poet. That was two months ago. And now, thanks to bed rest, I have the time to revisit the question and learn a bit more about this great African American poet.

The poem is also of sufficiently short length to allow for memorization, which is one of the intended uses of poem of the week. (For me, that is. Others are under no such obligation!)

James Mercer Langston Hughes had an exceptional and diverse extended family. His maternal grand-uncle was the first African American from Virginia to be elected to the U.S. Congress, in 1888. His maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson, was of African American, French, Native American and English descent and was one of the first women to attend Oberlin College in Ohio. It was Patterson who raised Hughes during his early childhood years after his parents divorced and his father moved to Cuba and later Mexico.

Hughes eventually settled in Harlem, where he became influential in the burgeoning black cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, beginning in the early 1920's. Also a novelist and playwright, Hughes is best known for his Jazz poetry, which incorporated the syncopated rhythms and improvisation of music from contemporaries in Harlem like the great jazz musician, Duke Ellington. Jazzonia was published in 1926 as part of Hughes' first collection of poems, The Weary Blues. By the time of his death from complications of prostate cancer surgery in 1967, Hughes had published over 50 novels, plays, childrens stories and collections of poetry and short stories. In the following link, hear a recording of Hughes reading his well-known poem, I, too.

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