Sunday, May 30, 2010

Major Characteristics of American Female Poetry

The field of communication for a long time has been dominated by the white male Anglo-Saxon Protestant voice. The voices of African, Asian, Latino, Jewish Americans have too long been marginalized. Increasingly, there is nowadays an interest in the cultural insights of experts from other traditions and culture. An attempt is made at reconciling a wide range of cultures and communities in a democratic set-up.

This article seeks a refreshing insight into the vision and position of African American Women's Poetry since the 1970s as they reach out to a dream yet unfulfilled. The need for highlighting minority voices (here those of African American Women poets) is more compelling than ever before because their speech communication had been silenced far too long. Efforts to build bridges and opportunities have not borne the desired results. Necessarily, these voices will present a perspective different from the majority perspective.

Gonzalez, Houston and Chen (1997) hold the theoretical view that race, culture, gender, class, and ethnicity are not "external variables but rather inherent features in an ongoing process of constructing how we understand and participate in the larger social, cultural, and political discourse" (Essays in Culture, Ethnicity, and Communication, p.x). America in the 1990s has seen debate on immigration policies, inter-racial conflicts, anxiety over influx of new immigrants, and the greater visibility of minority groups. The year 1997 saw President Clinton initiating a series of debates on race relations but the disparate voices have not to date come out with anything tangible and workable, in fact, there is a hardening of stances. America seems to be more of a mosaic than a melting pot, more colourful and polyphonic with rich cultural diversity and pluralism. It is in this light that we see African American Women's voices. There is now more than ever before a felt need for more space for diverse cultural voices and perspectives, and a stress on the value of diversity.

It must be understood, however, that minority/ethnic voices not only express criticism of discrimination and injustice but also express a culture to celebrate. It is a culture richly soaked in tradition, maybe not expressed boldly before but now revived with an awareness of its intrinsic qualities, for instance, the notion that Black is beautiful and unique. What they are creating is an awareness of the ills of the society and an environment of tolerance for diversity so that people could work together to achieve a common goal. It is also a legitimate claim for dignity and equal opportunities. The cultural significance of these expressions changes from time to time within the changing social and political contexts. But artists with their imaginative power transform and bring home these strengths. It is important to realise that the direction of definitions of race, culture, and ethnicity is ever shifting. Also, my point of view about another ethnic group's expression might be different from the mainstream Anglo-Saxon tradition.

It is possible to get lost in the maze of implications concerning culture, ethnicity, and race. Shuter (1990) notes that "most inter-cultural research is essentially directed toward "theory validation" and fails to describe how people actually live and interact "....The challenge for inter-cultural communication in the 1990s ... is to develop a research direction and teaching agenda that returns culture to pre-eminence..."(The Centrality of Culture, p. 238). Christian(1988), another cultural expert, observes that "People of colour have always theorised - but in forms quite different from the Western form of abstract logic....[O]ur theorising... is often in narrative forms, in the stories we create, in riddle and proverbs, in the play with language, because dynamic rather than fixed ideas seem more to our liking" (The Race for Theory, p. 68). Some theoretical question raised by cultural experts are: Why does one ethnic group seek to dominate another group? What are the structures, psychologies, and languages of domination? How do women, especially Black women, fight these forces of domination? How do we reach out to a better future, realising the dream of Martin Luther King Jr.? By reading and interpreting the rich voices in poetry, stories, and experiences told by African American Women Writers, I believe, we can have a better understanding of their position and their cultural practices. My approach is more a complement to the theory-oriented approaches to literary study.

Can poetry be political, didactic and art?
Can poetry be political, didactic and art? This is the question that has to be addressed in the context of post 1960s African American Women's Poetry, since it was viewed as merely social and political. The answer, of course, is that it is possible and is more effectively proved in the poetry of Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, Sonia Sanchez, Rita Dove and others. Clarence Major cites the more recent poetry of African American women poets as being good example of how it is possible to reconcile both the political, the didactic, and art.

Among recent African-American poets, Audre Lorde, I think, proved that it can. Sonia Sanchez, with her haiku-like style, in her exploration of self in exchange and conflict with community, in her probing of the personal self's relation to the public self, in her search for the higher public self, in her search for the higher public good in that public self, in her constant redefining of those selves, especially as female body and spirit, proves that it is possible....Joyne Cortez, with her improvisational free form, in her struggle to define the black female in the context of family, class, body, spirit, and moral self, proves that it's possible to focus on these social issues - as well as drug addiction, persecution, rape, war, sexism, racism - and create poems that stand on their own as works of solid art. (The Garden Thrives : Twentieth-Century African-American Poetry, 1996, p.xxviii-xxix).
African American women since the 1970s have proved that black poets can write works of art with pure creative energy.

For several reasons I have taken for study the post 1970s African American Women's Poetry. The 1960s poetry marks the change in attitude and takes a militant posture with the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement and the Black Arts Movement that brought in cultural nationalism. For many it seemed that poetry written during this period was purely political and social. The poetry written by African American women that followed in the 1970s and thereafter (influenced by the Feminist Movement) proved that Black poetry could be both didactic and political, and art as well. It is inevitable, to a certain degree, that it will be political and social, until the playing field of opportunities is level. The post 1970s poetry is remarkably rich in variety of expression drawing on different styles and cultural traditions. These women writers may well affect society through their message that it alters perceptions and minds. They are not pure propaganda as it has been sometimes made out for reasons other than merely literary. Many of these poems are original, organic, vibrant and pregnant with a message at the same time. It is now diverse and most often brilliant poetry. It is musical, the voice of the people expressing in what they are good at, a race of people gifted and artistic. Maya Angelou states, "We are a tongued folk. A race of singers. Our lips shape words and rhythms which elevate our spirits and quicken our blood...I have spent over fifty years listening to my people."(Mari Evans, ed., 1984, p. 3). Sonia Sanchez confesses "I had to wash my ego in the needs/aspirations of my people." (Mari Evans, ed., 1984, p. 415). The autobiographical statement is central to African American women's poetry expressing their sufferings, pain, and their deferred dreams. It is a means of getting at the truth behind their experience. Selwyn R. Cudjoe (1984) notes that "The practice of the autobiographical statement until the contemporary era, remains the quintessential literary genre for capturing the cadence of the Afro-American being, revealing its deepest aspirations and tracing the evolution of the Afro-American psyche under the impact of slavery and modern U.S. imperialism."

In 1977 Barbara Smith in "Towards a Black Feminist Criticism" called on Black women to create a body of literature that "embodies the realisation that the politics of sex as well as the politics of race and class are interlocking factors." (Gloria Hull et al. ed., 1982,). There came a shift in African American women’s writing which raised critical issues about the nature of sexism in America. Thus, they focused on themselves as women and as Blacks. Since the 1970s African American women have explored a variety of themes and expressed their genius in different forms. Doors that had been traditionally closed in the academy (dominated by white and male) began to open with the proliferation and quality of writing by women writers. From the 1970s through the mid-nineties African American poetry, and women's poetry in particular, continued to gain in richness, universality of theme, and technical maturity.

Robert Frost-Langston Hughes and Adrienne Rich
The wide gauntlet of American literature in poems can best be represented by the three great authors, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes and Adrienne Rich. The poems reflect the themes of a growing nation that introduces new technology, freedoms and the outpouring of women's voices that once were kept silent. These poems capture the energy of pioneering America, emancipation, and the growing liberation of women.
To capture the true atmosphere of the changing face of American literature, no course would be complete without students experiencing the undulating power and portrayal of America's rise to economic greatness, as conveyed through the vespered mind of its naturalist writer, Robert Frost. Robert Frost's  poem,   "The Line Gang "  theme portrays the energy of advancing civilization, while capturing the feeling of excitement of the unknown, an exitement, which acts as a type of catalyst for the advancing Line Gang.  The lonely cable, strung high above the homes, hangs on silent tracks, propelling its own soundless tune of hidden words. Formed words from random sparks of lifeless energy, transformed  by the harnessing of lightning and mechanical taps: codes deciphered through the be-speckled eyes of the ever vigilant telegraph officer. The dead trees are resurrected through the threading of a magic cord,  as a Rumplestiltskin type of magic transforms dead wood and golden cord into a Republican instrument played on the   wide expanses of America's isolated sounding boards. The new instruments path remains unnoticed, selves by the occasional glance of a Bald eagles gaze. 

Even at first glance this poem should be included in any course, as it really covers some of the most important themes of thought for that time period. It echoes the energy and advancement of  a new force, unleashed on the  open forests of America. It captures the pioneering spirit of small isolated pioneering communities brought to life, if but for the moment by magic of the melting pots of American commerce. The criteria I used for determining this poems adequacy, was the way it performed as a unique type of time capsule. This poem served to highlight the period when the Western territories, with all its wide expanses of land, are bridged through a new form of mass media. The spirit of liberty and free speech are interwoven with the fortitude of comradely work ethics captured in the wild forest towns of the unspoiled west. Bridging  the gulf of communication with strangers and sourjouers, made one through  their conquering of savage mountainous forest, the Line gang is just another type of great pioneer hidden behind the scenes. Like the men Lewis and Clark. They explored the wide swatches of land and rivers, leaving a new language in the  expanses of western frontier, still just as Important as Lewis and Clark.
In Langston Hughes, " The Negro Speaks of Rivers",  he is able to capture the feeling of the ageless flow of rivers that are older than man himself. "...I've known rivers :I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins..." (Lauter, lines 1-3). He eludes to the fact that by his association with these four rivers , his soul has been marked and enlarged by its caress. "...My soul has grown deep like the rivers..."(Lauter, line 13). Yet Hughes prose has a method whose tempo beats like a African drum, sounding out the evolution of man from his beginning at the fertile crescent on the banks of the Euphrates . His poetic sojourn carries you away to the Congo huts, where his forebears developed their early democracy. Finally, the framing of all he is stems from the banks on the Nile, A place where Moses song of freedom is finally repeated on the Mississippi river, by Abe Lincoln's journey to New Orleans. "...I heard the singing of the Mississippi river when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans..." (Lauter, lines 8-9).Hughes Poem covers one of the most important themes of that period, the embodiment of our love for humanity with the beginnings of a just and noble society . His poems takes you back to his cultural roots, possibly at the site of creation itself. By employing a type of spiritual preeminence, full of hope and joy , he has found a way to bring hope to his race as well as our nation as a whole. This poem a represents a uniquely new idea on the controversies of that that time by employing the themes of   Language , music and emotions of the common people of the area's Harlem, New York. His use of rythm and beat in this poem served o celebrate his enjoyment and pride of being a black man.
In Adrienne Rich's poem, "Coast to Coast", the theme centers around the a women narrator trapped in a silent regime of daily repetitious tasks. "...In grief and fury blending to the accustomed tasks the vacuum cleaner plowing realms of dust..." (Rich, lines 3-5). The protector and the protected have been covered with a type of dust that gathered and fogged their relationship. "...realms of dust the mirror scoured grey webs behind framed photographs..." (Rich, lines 5-6). Her marriage has swallowed her creative identity. The rainbow of light which guides her understanding, motivates her to send out this warning to her fellow traveler in suffrage. "If you can read and understand this poem send something back: a burning strand of hair a still-warm, still-liquid drop of blood a shell thickened from being battered year on year send something back..." (Rich ,line 37-42). I liked this poem because it points to a common problem even in today's marriages, the lack of continued communication after tying the knot. Sharing in each others personnel endeavors helps to cement the relationship into a bond that can not be broken.

This Poems ought to be included in any American Literature course ,as it endeavors to covers some of the most important themes of women's thought for that time period.  It shows women's struggle to conform to domestic chores while embracing their clear power intellectual  skills. Skills that often had to remain dormant in fear of arousing suspicion and the reprisals of a society that had not yet come to terms with the idea of a educated women equal to her spouse in everyway.  This poems represents another uniquely new idea and focuses on  controversies for that time.   She employs her knowledge of complex poetic meter and rhythm schemes through her love of the lyrical as well as rhythmic .  This poem helps to chronicle the evolutionary  thoughts of feminism of her time. Her poem's are unique in that they do not clash with the  Democratic/Puritan vision of the "City On the Hill" , which goes through the extremes of doing away with the concept of marriage.  Rather she seeks to explore a women's inner struggle through the incorporation of politics being part of the inner women's day to day life. She is the fabric of what makes up our entire social institution. There is no way to separate the social and economic and political state of womanhood without unbalancing the system. She conveys the feelings of the educated women of her time that clearly see the reality of equality in every aspect of "The City On The Hill" be a shared endeavor.

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