April 18th, 2008

Langston Hughes

I was looking at the Collected Poems of Langston Hughes,
and the editors were singing the blues:
To a substantial number of readers and, especially, scholar-critics, Hughes's approach to poetry was far too simple and unlearned. To them, his verse fails lamentably to satisfy their desire for a modernist literature attuned to the complexities of modern life.
One of the problems is that he was writing for someone other than scholar-critics:
...he wished to write no verse that was beyond the ability of the masses of people to understand...
He also was in a hurry:
...he believed that the full range of his poetry should reach print as soon as possible; poetry is a form of social action.
I think he would have been tempted to blog.

I admire his writing a lot.  I learned from him.  I'm not really into his communist poems, and some of his black power poems don't speak to me, but Freedom Train, Dream Deferred, and Still Here, for example, still blow me away.

He thought it was ineffectual
to write for intellectual
scholar critics
who craved analytic
grist to grind
inside their minds:
puzzles to solve.

He had not time for that;
he felt the world revolving
and he had so much
to say;
never would he have touched
most reader's souls if he'd written that way.

To sum it up, he lacked respect
for the elect,
and now his reputation's wrecked.

But his verse was so alive.
I suppose that's why his books survive.