Deal-Me-In Challenge – 2017

The last few years I’ve watched other bloggers make and post lists for a challenge hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis–52 short items (frequently short stories, but often also including poems, essay, or plays), each linked to a specific playing card. The idea: over the course of the coming year to select a card for each week then read that item in the appropriate week of the year. And it’s always been tempting–nothing too long to read, a great way to spend some time with literature types I don’t usually read. I finally succumbed to the temptation year, but under the strict understanding: I will almost certainly fail (I’m placing my bet on week four 馃槈 ). Actually I stand a lot better chance if I don’t commit to posting on everything I read, so, whether I do or not will probably be by whim. Regardless, I’m hope this helps me continue to push my reading boundaries away from longer forms.
Deal Me In Short Stories Challenge Logo

My List is half short stories / half poems (for weeks with more than one poem, the poems in question are very short). All selections are from collections either on my own shelves or pilfered from my parents (they won’t even notice…)

Hearts – short stories
A – The Leader of the People – John Steinbeck
2 – Mr. Know-All – W. Somerset Maugham
3 – The Old Demon – Pearl S. Buck
4 – Young Archimedes – Aldous Huxley
5 – Butch Minds the Baby – Damon Runyon
6 – Suspicion – Dorothy L. Sayers
7 – The Open Boat – Stephen Crane
8 – My Oedipus Complex – Frank O’Connor
9 – The Snows of Kilimanjaro – Ernest Hemingway
10 – Six Feet of the Country – Nadine Gordimer
J – The Boarding House – James Joyce
Q – The Brute – Joseph Conrad
K – Lead Her Like a Pigeon – Jessamyn West

Spades – short stories
A – Vanka – Anton Chekhov
2 – Hautot and His Son – Guy de Maupassant
3 – A Letter to God – Gregorio L贸pez y Fuentes
4 – The Little Bouilloux Girl – Colette
5 – The Ruby – Corrado Alvaro
6 – A Double Game – Alberto Moravia
7 – Maternity – Lilika Nakos
8 – God Sees the Truth, But Waits – Leo Tolstoy
9 – The Walker-Through-Walls – Marcel Aym茅
10 – The Augsburg Chalk Circle – Bertolt Brecht
J – The Procurator of Jud忙a – Anatole France
Q – My Lord, the Baby – Rabindranath Tagore
K – Modern Children – Sholom Aleichem

Diamonds – poetry
A – To the Memory of My Beloved Master, William Shakespeare – Ben Jonson
2 – L’Allegro – John Milton
3 – Il Penseroso – John Milton
4 – Lycidas – John Milton
5 – To a Mouse – Robert Burns
6 – Tam o’ Shanter – Robert Burns
7 – Kubla Khan – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
8 – Morte d’Arthur – Alfred, Lord Tennyson
9 – Ulysses – Alfred, Lord Tennyson
10 – A Grammarian’s Funeral – Robert Browning
J – Pioneers! O Pioneers! – Walt Whitman
Q – O Captain! My Captain! – Walt Whitman
K – When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d – Walt Whitman

Clubs – poetry
A – Sonetos I, LXI, LXXXI – Juan Bosc谩n
2 – Sonetos & “Da mi basia mille” – Crist贸bal de Castillejo
3 – Sonetos I, IV, X, XI – Garcilaso de la Vega
4 – Sonetos XIV, XXIII, XXIX, XXXII – Garcilaso de la Vega
5 – Canci贸n III – Garcilaso de la Vega
6 – Canci贸n V – Garcilaso de la Vega
7 – Madrigales I, II & Soneto I – Gutierre de Cetina
8 – Sonetos V, XX, XXIII – Francisco de la Torre
9 – Endecha II – Francisco de la Torre
10 – Soneto al rey nuestro se帽or – Hernando de Acu帽a
J – Oda I – Fray Luis de Le贸n
Q – Oda III – Fray Luis de Le贸n
K – Oda VII – Fray Luis de Le贸n

I look forward to starting this one – come Sunday! It should be a nice challenge. A thank you to Jay for hosting.

Completed: Selected Poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Cover: Selected Poems by Paul Laurence DunbarSelected Poems
Paul Laurence Dunbar
Edited with an Introduction by Herbert Woodward Martin
Penguin Books, 2004

As I mentioned in my previous post, I struggled with reading Dunbar’s poems. This wasn’t just because of the dialect (that didn’t help, but I usually can understand it by reading how it “sounds”), but also because of my weakness as a poetry reader in general, and I suspect perhaps, that this era of poetry may not be the best suited for me; I reacted better both to the Renaissance poetry of Spain’s Siglo de Oro聽and to a miscellaneous group of 20th century poems I read a year or so ago. But I did want to try my hand at this, the challenge not just to read one of Ohio’s most prolific writers, but the challenge of reading a genre–lyric poetry–I usually avoid. I opted for a curated collection, so I cannot be sure that my observations, such as they are, are necessarily true as compared to the entirety of Dunbar’s poetic output.

Dunbar seems to return to a number of themes many times–love (of course!), faith (I believe I read that his mother wanted him to be a preacher, so…), plantation life, odes to great African Americans and historical events. While most of the themes聽might be written in either “standard” or dialect, as suited Dunbar–or perhaps as suited his audience–, the聽odes were universally written in standard speech. They also seemed, I gather, to be tied to either deaths of great figures or anniversaries. Not all were made to people or events with which I was familiar, and I found myself more than one searching out the history behind the poem.

Dunbar also seems to have, over time, lost the optimism and cheerfulness of his early work, as starting in the selections from聽Lyrics of the Hearthside, some of the poems seemed to takes a grimmer, more despondent tone. I don’t know if this was a matter of which poems the editors selected for inclusion, if it reflected the natural passage from youth to manhood and the subsequent facing of stark reality we all must endure, or if it reflects an even darker turn Dunbar’s life took, perhaps due to the public reception of his work or a personal loss, or even the downturn his health took (he died young, of tuberculosis). This is not to say that his later poems lost all humor and optimism altogether, just that the later books appeared to include more unhappy poems than the early books did.

“A Career” (Oak and Ivy, 1893)

“Break me my bounds, and let me fly
To regions vast of boundless sky;
Nor I, like piteous Daphne, be
Root-bound. Ah, no! I would be free
As yon same bird that in its flight
Outstrips the range of mortal sight;
Free as the mountain streams that gush
From bubbling springs, and downward rush
Across the serrate mountain’s side,鈥
The rocks o’erwhelmed, their banks defied,鈥
And like the passions in the soul,
Swell into torrents as they roll.
Oh, circumscribe me not by rules
That serve to lead the minds of fools!
But give me pow’r to work my will,
And at my deeds the world shall thrill.
My words shall rouse the slumb’ring zest
That hardly stirs in manhood’s breast;
And as the sun feeds lesser lights,
As planets have their satellites,
So round about me will I bind
The men who prize a master mind!”

He lived a silent life alone,
And laid him down when it was done;
And at his head was placed a stone
On which was carved a name unknown!

And perhaps this was simply frustration – early on the poems suggest Dunbar’s ambition, and while he did achieve great success, it was for his dialect work, but he also wanted recognition for that which was more traditional. I was surprised to find that one of Dunbar’s most famous poems, “Sympathy,” from which Maya Angelou took the title for her聽most famous book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was actually in Dunbar’s first published volume of poems. Clearly–and Williams Dean Howell’s praise for his second volume also points to this–even Dunbar’s earliest published work has merit.

One of my favorite of Dunbar’s poems actually turned out to be one of his dialect poems. It is an illustration that some things never change–I can envision the same argument being made today (I think I’ve heard it!), only perhaps substitute different types of music.

The Ol’ Tunes” (Oak and Ivy, 1893)

You kin talk about yer anthems
An’ yer arias an’ sich,
An’ yer modern choir-singin’
That you think so awful rich;
But you orter heerd us youngsters
In the times now far away,
A-singin’ o’ the ol’ tunes
In the ol’-fashioned way.

There was some of us sung treble
An’ a few of us growled bass,
An’ the tide o’ song flowed smoothly
With its ‘comp’niment o’ grace;
There was spirit in that music,
An’ a kind o’ solemn sway,
A-singin’ o’ the ol’ tunes
In the ol’-fashioned way.

But I think that some bright mornin’,
When the toils of life air o’er,
An’ the sun o’ heaven arisin’
Glads with light the happy shore,
I shall hear the angel chorus,
In the realms of endless day,
A-singin’ o’ the ol’ tunes
In the ol’-fashioned way.

Another favorite poem was “The Spellin’-Bee”, if for no other reason than it reminded me of The Little House聽books as the sort of event that might have occurred–certainly the time frame is close. 聽(I believe there’s a spelling bee in Little Town on the Prairie? It’s been a long while since I read these.) That, and a little twist at the end. Dunbar does seem to like a twist now and then.

The Spellin’-Bee” (Lyrics of Lowly Life, 1896)

I never shall furgit that night when father hitched up Dobbin,
An’ all us youngsters clambered in an’ down the road went bobbin’
To school where we was kep’ at work in every kind o’ weather,
But where that night a spellin’-bee was callin’ us together.
‘Twas one o’ Heaven’s banner nights, the stars was all a glitter,
The moon was shinin’ like the hand o’ God had jest then lit her.
The ground was white with spotless snow, the blast was sort o’ stingin’;
But underneath our round-abouts, you bet our hearts was singin’.
That spellin’-bee had be’n the talk o’ many a precious moment,
The youngsters all was wild to see jes’ what the precious show meant,
An’ we whose years was in their teens was little less desirous
O’ gittin’ to the meetin’ so ‘s our sweethearts could admire us.

Fur once within that lighted room, our feelin’s took a canter,
An’ scurried to the zero mark ez quick ez Tam O’Shanter.
‘Cause there was crowds o’ people there, both sexes an’ all stations;
It looked like all the town had come an’ brought all their relations.

In general, the poems I liked the best were the ones that in some way amused me: the observations on English cooking (from “A Letter” – Lyrics of the Hearthside, 1899):


But dese Englishmen is diffunt, an’ dey’s curus fu’ a fac’.
Fust, dey’s heavier an’ redder in dey make-up an’ dey looks,
An’ dey don’t put salt nor pepper in a blessed t’ing dey cooks!
W’en dey gin you good ol’ tu’nips, ca’ots, pa’snips, beets, an’ sich,
Ef day ain’t some one to tell you, you cain’t ‘stinguish which is which.

or the fight in the kitchen:

Trouble in de Kitchen” (Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow, 1905)

Dey was oncet a awful quoil ‘twixt de skillet an’ de pot;
De pot was des a-bilin’ an’ de skillet sho’ was hot.
Dey slurred each othah’s colah an’ dey called each othah names,
Wile de coal-oil can des gu-gled, po’in oil erpon de flames.

But not all of the poems I liked are humorous. Dunbar had serious poems as well, often stirring. His “The Colored Soldiers” (Majors and Minors, 1895) is both a memorial to those who fought the Union cause but also an argument for equality:

They were comrades then and brothers,
Are they more or less to-day?
They were good to stop a bullet
And to front the fearful fray.
They were citizens and soldiers,
When rebellion raised its head;
And the traits that made them worth,–
Ah! those virtues are not dead.

While “Hymn” (Majors and Minors, 1895) is a poem of great faith:

When storms arise
And dark’ning skies
About me threat’ning lower,
To thee, O Lord, I raise mine eyes,
To thee my tortured spirit flies
For solace in that hour.

The mighty arm
Will let no harm
Come near me nor befall me;
Thy voice shall quiet my alarm,
When life’s great battle waxeth warm鈥
No foeman shall appall me.

Upon thy breast
Secure I rest,
From sorrow and vexation;
No more by sinful cares oppressed,
But in thy presence ever blest,
O God of my salvation.

And “For the Man Who Fails” (Lyrics of the Hearthside, 1899) stands in contrast to those who deem that the only people who matter are those that are the “best” or “greatest” or “win.”

The world is a snob, and the man who wins
Is the chap for its money’s worth:
And the lust for success causes half of the sins
That are cursing this brave old earth.
For it ‘s fine to go up, and the world’s applause
Is sweet to the mortal ear;
But the man who fails in a noble cause
Is a hero that ‘s no less dear.

‘T is true enough that the laurel crown
Twines but for the victor’s brow;
For many a hero has lain him down
With naught but the cypress bough.
There are gallant men in the losing fight,
And as gallant deeds are done
As ever graced the captured height
Or the battle grandly won.

We sit at life’s board with our nerves highstrung,
And we play for the stake of Fame,
And our odes are sung and our banners hung
For the man who wins the game.
But I have a song of another kind
Than breathes in these fame-wrought gales,鈥
An ode to the noble heart and mind
Of the gallant man who fails!

The man who is strong to fight his fight,
And whose will no front can daunt,
If the truth be truth and the right be right,
Is the man that the ages want.
Tho’ he fail and die in grim defeat,
Yet he has not fled the strife,
And the house of Earth will seem more sweet
For the perfume of his life.

But perhaps the most appropriate poem to share with bookish people is one simply titled “Sonnet: On an Old Book with Uncut Leaves” (Lyrics of the Hearthside, 1899)

Emblem of blasted hope and lost desire,
No finger ever traced thy yellow page
Save Time’s. Thou hast not wrought to noble rage
The hearts thou wouldst have stirred. Not any fire
Save sad flames set to light a funeral pyre
Dost thou suggest. Nay,鈥攊mpotent in age,
Unsought, thou holdst a corner of the stage
And ceasest even dumbly to aspire.

How different was the thought of him that writ.
What promised he to love of ease and wealth,
When men should read and kindle at his wit.
But here decay eats up the book by stealth,
While it, like some old maiden, solemnly,
Hugs its incongruous virginity!

 

2/3 posts relating to my spring reading of Paul Laurence Dunbar works. Read as part of my Reading Ohio project and for the category “a classic by a non-white author” for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

Paul Laurence Dunbar

This is the first of three posts that I wrote this summer, but for some reason never published to the blog. I’m grateful I wrote them however, as I don’t believe I would have remembered much that I wrote here otherwise.
Paul Laurence Dunbar circa 1890 (Public Domain)I spent a good chunk of my reading time this past winter and spring reading poems and short stories by Paul Laurence Dunbar–for my Reading Ohio project–, a challenge for me, as I don’t often read much of either, especially poetry, and so my reading muscles found themselves severely taxed.

Not making it easier, was Dunbar’s frequent use of dialect, specifically a vernacular meant to represent English as spoken by slaves, ex-slaves, and their descendants (usually–other dialects make appearances). Dunbar himself was the son of former slaves, born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, where he was a classmate of Orville Wright. Dunbar would briefly write and edit the first African American weekly paper in Dayton, with Orville and Wilbur Wright as the printers鹿. After high school, Dunbar’s dreams of college and becoming a lawyer were thwarted due to a lack of finances, so he took a job as an elevator operator. During this time, he continued to write poems, and after his first volume, Oak and Ivy (1893), was published, he hand-sold it to passengers on the elevator. His second volume of poetry, Majors and Minors (1895), caught the eye of fellow Ohio-native William Dean Howells, the “dean of American letters,” who wrote a laudatory review in Harper’s Weekly. This review was later adapted as the introduction to Dunbar’s third volume, Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896). But although this praise catapulted Dunbar to fame, it came with a price–Dunbar would find himself in a sort of trap, expected by his white audience to write only in dialect and of the sorts of life experiences of African-Americans they believed to be “authentic.”

Although Howells wrote with the best of intentions, Dunbar’s supposed objective analysis of African American life became, for several contemporaneous literary critics and commercial marketplaces, the standard for determining the realistic nature and aesthetic value of ‘blackness’ in literature. Eventually, this representational category limited Dunbar’s own ability to deviate from the accepted protocols of African American literature, and subsequently reduced the complexity of his legacy to a rigid dichotomy. It has been argued that Dunbar was torn between, on the one hand, fulfilling certain cultural conventions of minstrelsy in order to make money and appease literary critics, and, on the other, heeding personal impulses to write poetry in the style of the Romantics. Dunbar was torn, in other words, between selling out to a racist market for blackface humor and dialect and practicing a sort of literary assimilationism that in itself was racist, because it privileged traditionally white-authored poetry as the best that Western literature had to offer (Jarrett and Morgan, xv-xvi)

And this has seemingly become Dunbar’s legacy: this debate over his use of dialect, authentic or sellout? To what extent should we laud him for his artistic merits or critique him for a continuance of stereotype?

It would seem that for some time his work was mostly overlooked; the Introduction to The Complete Stories of Paul Laurence Dunbar notes that despite his amazing quantity of output–four novels, four books of short stories, fourteen volumes of poetry, as well as songs, dramatic works, essays, and additional short stories and poems–there has not been a commiserate amount of critical scholarship. But perhaps this is changing; the Introductions to both volumes I read from both seek to promote the idea that Dunbar is more than just his dialect poems or his most famous collections. Indeed, Jarrett and Morgan make a point of demonstrating the ways in which Dunbar undermines or otherwise rebels against the stereotypes expected of him, showing specific examples across his many stories.

A victim of his own success, he boxed himself into a literary paradigm that overshadowed the diversity of his literary skills and racial-political thought while offering him the best means of earning money. While Dunbar accepted these terms for the sake of achieving financial security, he was more proactive and subtle about inserting his own political views than many critics, then and since, have given him credit for. (Jarrett and Morgan, xx)

My own approach to Dunbar is as a casual reader–with only a slight acquaintance with the other literature of the time, and only covering a very small quantity of his entire output. Within these limitations, Dunbar’s rebellions were not as obvious to me as those in Charles W. Chestnutt’s Conjure Stories, which always seemed to twist what was expected. Yet, Jarrett and Morgan point out, even something as small as a story depicting African Americans in an urban northern setting, as opposed to the rural south, would be a departure from the expectations of his contemporary white audience.

More obvious to me was Dunbar’s longing for something greater as in poems such as “A Career,” “Sympathy,” or “He Had His Dreams.” It would seem that in his works Dunbar expressed the frustrations of his ambitions, thwarted not merely by race but by predetermined critical expectation and consensus.

And yet, Martin, in his introduction to Selected Poems, indicates that Dunbar was indeed very successful as a writer of dialect, comparable to Mark Twain in his ear and abilities–high praise indeed! He further points out the catch-22: had Dunbar not achieved success in dialect, he would likely have remained in obscurity and one of America’s most prolific African American poets–and the first to achieve national acceptance–would have been lost.

1. Dunbar’s Dayton, Ohio home is now a National Historic Landmark (free admission) included within the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park along with several landmarks relating to the Wright brothers.聽

Resources:
Dunbar, Paul Laurence. The Complete Stories of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Ed. Gene Andrew Jarrett and Thomas Lewis Morgan. Ohio University Press, 2005. Forward by Shelley Fisher Fishkin.

Dunbar, Paul Laurence. Selected Poems. Ed. with an Introduction by Herbert Woodward Martin. Penguin Books, 2004

1/3 posts relating to my spring reading of Paul Laurence Dunbar works

Anticipating April….and May….and June…and…

I was just updating podcasts to my iPod and thinking, “oh, I’m nearly caught up with my favorite podcast – I’m almost to November,” when it dawned on me: my brain is still stuck in January, even while it’s March all around.

Spring Squills - 2016

We’ve had an unbelievably mild winter (although, cruelly, there were snowflakes falling on this first day of spring), but it is still nice to welcome in the spring blooms and longer days.

And with spring, my mind turns to spring reads. This past week, after reading a number of “books I’m looking forward to this spring” and “here’s what I’m reading for April’s Classic Children’s Literature Event” posts, I thought, “hey I need to do one of those!” So here goes:

Spring 2016 Reads

From the top:

  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, and The Tailor of Glouscester – I’ve been wanting to revisit Beatrix Potter for a while, such delightful and charmingly illustrated tales, and what better time than for the Children’s Event?
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream – I’ve been wanting to read this in June for years
  • The Jungle Book – I have long had a fondness for the tale “‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,'” but I’ve never read any of the rest. Long overdue!
  • Pedro P谩ramo – my Classics Club spin selection
  • Titus Andronicus – the next Shakespeare selection on my list for this year
  • Selected Poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar – I’ve slowly, slowly working through this and vow to finish by the end of April – poetry month!
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – I’m hoping it’s as amusing as the premise sounds. It’s one of the many books on my shelves that I’ve decided I must simply get read sooner rather than later.
  • Bleak House (vol. 1 of 2) – Well, a start.
  • The Sound and the Fury – another I’ve started, but have since been distracted from
  • Emil and the Detectives – the readalong title, of course!
  • The Complete Stories of Paul Laurence Dunbar – I don’t intend to read the whole thing at this point, but I’ve started with Dunbar’s first story collection Folks from Dixie. This, and the Selected Poems above are both part of my Ohio project.

And this assumes of course, that some other distraction–or other blogger’s list–doesn’t catch my eye! On the other hand, if the reading goes well, I may add another title or two to the Children’s Classics list, most likely Part 2 of Little Women (in my edition, Good Wives in other places). Of course, the list above may give you a clue that I’m joining in some other events, despite all my busyness (I’m pretty sure that I’m piling on the books as a knee-jerk response to the fact that I can’t keep up at work either – might as well fail spectacularly at everything all at once!)

Button: Poetry Month Celebration at The Edge of the Precipice

Cleo’s been a terrible temptress of late, but I won’t blame her for letting me know about the Poetry Month Celebration at The Edge of the Precipice. No, I’m happy to have an outside incentive (besides library due dates) to finish the Dunbar poems. For that matter, I believe that The Jungle Book has some poetry as well.

Button: The Pickwick Papers Read-Along

But even before that, O’s Pickwick Papers Read-Along begins. A nice, slow, long term one, it seems totally doable as long as I remember to read for it!

Button: Once Upon a Time X (art by Melissa Nucera https://www.etsy.com/people/ThisYearsGirl)

And of course, I have to participate in Once Upon a Time! Even when I’m not planning on it, the pretty artwork (this year by Melissa Nucera) reels me in every year. I’m not sure what I’m reading, other than A Midsummer Night’s Dream (although there are some rereads I’m eyeing), so I’m only planning on participating in “The Journey,” which is just one book (or more…) Of course, if I were to pick up some Ancient Greek mythology (for one of my 2016 challenges), that would count as well. See, blogging is a very dangerous thing!

Button: Once Upon a Time X "The Journey" (art by Melissa Nucera https://www.etsy.com/people/ThisYearsGirl)

 

Happy Reading!

Reading Ohio: Some Poems

I have been working on this post for weeks. Really. I just don’t seem to know what I want to write (or what I can write), but it’s becoming a burden now, keeping me from other posts, and even other reading. So I’ve decided to just bite the bullet and post it, my random, stumbling thoughts on some Ohioan poetry. (Darn it, Ohio, why’d you produce so many poets? This is only scratching the surface…)

I don’t really read much poetry (AKA haven’t read any lyric poetry since high school). I don’t really feel that I know how to read poetry. I blame this in part on high school English classes and their focus on “studying” poems–it almost seemed an instruction that the only way to read poems was this one way. I forget 3rd grade and the rhymes and amusements of Shel Silverstein. Third grade poetry was fun.

So it was with uncertainty that I picked up a volume of poems from the library to begin my explorations of Ohio writers. It was still February then, and I’d thought that in honor of Black History Month I should begin with some of Ohio’s African-American writers–not a few of whom were, or are, poets. (As a bonus, when I started this, it would also have been aligning with The Classics Club’s February theme–I guess I’m a bit a lot behind.)

I find, flipping though the pages of this anthology (Essential Pleasures, Ed. Robert Pinsky, 2009), stopping at random when a title or author’s name catches my eye, that it is not so difficult, actually, after all, to read poetry. Some is delightful, the play of sounds and words. Some is beautiful in its lyricism. Some I don’t understand. I discovered that I rather liked some of it, the small little stories told. The poems that tell stories I like best–perhaps why I have managed to read some of the epic poems on my own. (If you happen to be curious as to which poems I read, they’re all listed under my 2014 reads in the menu above.)

But I don’t know how to write about poetry. So I share here what I can–some biography, some random musings. My stumblings.

~~~

The anthology I picked up had two poems by African-American-Ohio poets, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Rita Dove, both of whom were born and raised in Ohio. There was also one poem by Langston Hughes–his connections to Ohio are less strong, but he did attend high school in Cleveland, and his maternal grandmother Mary Patterson attended Oberlin (the first college in the U.S. to regularly admit black students and oldest continuously operating coed college).

Paul Laurence Dunbar (June 27, 1872-February 9, 1906) was born in Dayton, Ohio to former slaves, Matilda and Joshua Dunbar. He grew up in Dayton, where he became good friends with Orville and Wilbur Wright, of “first in flight” fame. They would briefly co-publish a newspaper together. Although Dunbar had been active in high school activities–debate, school paper, literary society, his race would limit him after high school, leading to a job as an elevator operator. Working days, he wrote nights, eventually receiving attention for his poetry and publishing his first collection, Oak and Ivy in 1892. He continued to write and read at local gatherings, with growing attention leading to a reading at the 1893 World’s Fair. Ohio native William Dean Howells praised his 1895 collection Majors and Minors in a Harper’s Weekly column, leading to further fame. A collection of his two previous books, as Lyrics of a Lowly Life, may have been the best-selling work of African American poetry prior to the Harlem Renaissance. (His complete poems are available digitally HERE.) Dunbar’s legacy is mixed–although praised for his poetry, he has also been criticized for his dialect verses, which some have felt were a sell-out to white expectations and a reinforcement of stereotypes. Dunbar himself was upset that his more traditional poems did not find the same audience as his dialect verses. (BIOGRAPHICAL SOURCES)

“Little Brown Baby”

Little brown baby wif spa’klin’ eyes,
Come to yo’ pappy an’ set on his knee.
What you been doin’, suh鈥攎akin’ san’ pies?
Look at dat bib鈥攜ou’s ez du’ty ez me.
Look at dat mouf鈥攄at’s merlasses, I bet;
Come hyeah, Maria, an’ wipe off his han’s.
Bees gwine to ketch you an’ eat you up yit,
Bein’ so sticky an sweet鈥攇oodness lan’s!

Little brown baby wif spa’klin’ eyes,
Who’s pappy’s darlin’ an’ who ‘s pappy’s chile?
Who is it all de day nevah once tries
Fu’ to be cross, er once loses dat smile?
Whah did you git dem teef? My, you ‘s a scamp!
Whah did dat dimple come f’om in yo’ chin?
Pappy do’ know you鈥擨 b’lieves you ‘s a tramp;
Mammy, dis hyeah’s some ol’ straggler got in!

Let’s th’ow him outen de do’ in de san’,
We do’ want stragglers a-layin’ ‘roun’ hyeah;
Let’s gin him ‘way to de big buggah-man;
I know he’s hidin’ erroun’ hyeah right neah.
Buggah-man, buggah-man, come in de do’,
Hyeah ‘s a bad boy you kin have fu’ to eat.
Mammy an’ pappy do’ want him no mo’,
Swaller him down f’om his haid to his feet!

Dah, now, I t’ought dat you ‘d hug me up close.
Go back, ol’ buggah, you sha’n’t have dis boy.
He ain’t no tramp, ner no straggler, of co’se;
He’s pappy’s pa’dner an’ play-mate an’ joy.
Come to you’ pallet now鈥攇o to yo’ res;
Wisht you could allus know ease an’ cleah skies;
Wisht you could stay jes’ a chile on my breas’鈥
Little brown baby wif spa’klin’ eyes!

Clearly an example of Dunbar’s dialect poetry. I don’t know enough, it makes me wonder if that was an accurate transcription of late 19th century African-American dialect, or just a “this is what white people think African-Americans sound like” transcription? Regardless, the love of the father for his son shines through. I found it a sweet, touching poem. It also made me curious as to his non-dialect poems. Not knowing where to begin with the聽Complete Poems, I elected to read “Sympathy,” from which Maya Angelou took the title of her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals鈥
I know what the caged bird feels!I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting鈥
I know why he beats his wing!I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,鈥
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings鈥
I know why the caged bird sings!

Powerful.

Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902-May 22, 1967) was born in Missouri and lived in Kansas, Illinois, and New York, as well as Ohio, where he attended high school in Cleveland. He began writing poetry in high-school, and would later drop out of Columbia to travel the world. His first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published in 1924, and was strongly influenced by his love of jazz. He would become strongly associated with the Harlem Renaissance, both for his love of Harlem, and his success as a writer, publishing over fifty works, including novels, plays, and short story collections as well as poetry. His politics would lead to some trouble in the McCarthy era, but he remains well-known and well-regarded. (BIOGRAPHICAL SOURCE)

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers”

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

(Opening lines)

I love this one–the images it conveys, the touching on things ancient and timeless. It touches the soul.

Rita Dove (August 28, 1952) was born and raised in Akron, Ohio. She grew up loving to read and write, but didn’t realize that writing could be a career until high school. Her education included Miami University, two semesters in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar, and the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. She began publishing, in magazines, anthologies, and eventually poetry collections. In 1987 she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Thomas and Beulah and from 1993 to 1995 she served as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, the first African-American and youngest writer to hold the post of Poet Laureate. She has continued to publish; her most recent collection was Sonata Mulattica in 2009. (BIOGRAPHICAL SOURCE)

“Gospel” (from Thomas and Beulah)

Swing low so I
can step inside–

a humming ship of voices
big with all

the wrongs done
done them.

(Opening lines)

I’ll be honest: I’ve had a lot of trouble with this one. I’ve gone over and over and over it, and I just don’t fully understand it. I can tell there’s a story there (I think), but I’m not sure what it is. There’s definitely a reference to the spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” (all the italicized lines in the poem), and I’m wondering if the rest of the poem is the “thoughts” of the poem’s voice (a character? the poet? a narrator?) in between sung lines. I’ve learned that this poem came from the collection Thomas and Beulah, which forms an overall story, so perhaps some of my confusion comes from reading it out of context.

~~~

I don’t intend this as my last poetry reading for my Ohio project, but the genre is so unknown to me, that I may yet shy away again. (Or possibly just read and not post on it. The posting seems the hardest part.) I did declare that I would participate in Richard’s April readalong for The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance, so I’m trying to keep my toes in the water. (And for anyone looking for dead female writers, the poetry in the collection includes some by Sor Juana In茅s de la Cruz.)聽 Book blogging/reading projects: here to make us try things we wouldn’t otherwise, right?