The Vintage Book of African American Poetry
In The Vintage Book of African American Poetry, editors Michael S. Harper and Anthony Walton present the definitive collection of black verse in the United States--200 years of vision, struggle, power, beauty, and triumph from 52 outstanding poets. From the neoclassical stylings of slave-born Phillis Wheatley to the wistful lyricism of Paul Lawrence Dunbar . . . the rigorous wisdom of Gwendolyn Brooks...the chiseled modernism of Robert Hayden...the extraordinary prosody of Sterling A. Brown...the breathtaking, expansive narratives of Rita Dove...the plaintive rhapsodies of an imprisoned Elderidge Knight . . . The postmodern artistry of Yusef Komunyaka. Here, too, is a landmark exploration of lesser-known artists whose efforts birthed the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts movements--and changed forever our national literature and the course of America itself. Meticulously researched, thoughtfully structured, The Vintage Book of African-American Poetry is a collection of inestimable value to students, educators, and all those interested in the ever-evolving tradition that is American poetry. From the Trade Paperback edition.
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In general, paragraphs are organized so that they make one point and provide supporting evidence and commentary. Which of the statements below most accurately summarizes the main point of this paragraph?
Each individual poem in this anthology will offer its own unique perspective and opinion on the theme discussed in the question above. In literature, the theme is the author's opinion about a subject. In order to be well-prepared to interpret each poem's individual theme, watch this short video. (This annotation contains a video)
William Butler Yeats was an Irish poet who resisted English oppression and gave voice to his Irish cultural roots and heritage in his poetry. In a similar way that African American folk culture was looked down upon by white Americans, Irish folk culture was looked down upon by dominant English culture.
Uncle Tom and Sambo are both characters from stories that depicted African Americans in a negative and condescending light. Here is an example of an illustration of Sambo from the book "Little Black Sambo" published in 1900. (This annotation contains an image)
The author uses these two pieces of textual evidence in order to show
In this line, who does the pronoun "they" describe?
Which of the words below could be used in place of the word "pattern" as the author uses it in this context?
In this context, the term "heathen" pertains to West Africa. Like Wheatley, Hammon held a complex attitude between his Christian faith and the suffering and oppression he endured as a slave. Hammon and Wheatley were both introduced and converted to Christianity through their slave owners.
Pay careful attention to the rhyme scheme Hammon uses. When the last word of every other line rhymes, the rhyme scheme is notated as "abab."
In this line, the pronoun "He" describes
An indentured servant differed from a slave in that an indentured servant paid for their passage to the New World by working for a set number of years for an employer once they arrived in the colony. After they paid off their debt through their labor, they were granted freedom.
The following is a portrait of the poet Phyllis Wheatley that was published alongside the cover page of her collection of poems. (This annotation contains an image)
An allusion is a literary device in which a poet makes reference to another literary or Biblical text. Here, Wheatley alludes to the Biblical story of Cain and Abel in the book of Genesis. The story accounts of how Cain, acting out of jealousy, murders his brother Abel, who had earned God's favor with his sacrifice.
Which of the following statements most accurately expresses the speaker's attitude towards her faith?
Damon and Aurora are both characters from Greek mythology. This is an example of which literary device?
Notice the rhyme scheme in this poem. When the last word of a line rhymes with the next line that immediately follows, the rhyme scheme is notated as "aabb."
Personification is a literary device in which an object or thing is given human characteristics. Here, Wheatley describes how the flowers "boast" with "gaudy pride." Boasting and being prideful are human characteristics which a flower cannot literally exhibit. Can you identify other examples of personification in this poem?
Here Wheatley invokes the nine Muses from Greek mythology. The Muses were goddesses who inspired the creativity and craft of artists, writers, musicians, and scientists. In the classical literary tradition, poets invoked the Muses at the beginning of a poem in order to charge their work with a sense of authority and divine inspiration that reached beyond the individual poet's merit and abilities. (This annotation contains an image)
How do the "fervid beams" of the sun impact the poet's efforts?
George Moses Horton
What does the phrase "The gift of nature's God" describe?
Which literary device does Horton use here in his description of the sun?
The "rugged race" describes the speaker's
In poetry, the title of a poem can provide important information or detail to frame the rest of the poem for the reader. Consider the significance of the title "Early Affection" as you read the poem. What important information does the title provide that helps us to understand the poem as a whole?
Which of the statements below most accurately explains how the title of the poem "Early Affection" impacts the poem as a whole?
"She like a restless bird..."In the highlighted phrase, "She" refers to
Pay careful attention to the poet's repetition of the word "forever." How does the word's connotation and tone shift throughout the poem?
George Boyer Vashon
The heroic mode describes a genre of poetry that uses elevated diction and formal style to tell of the great deeds of leaders, warriors, or heroes. Poems written in the heroic mode convey the values and attributes a culture holds in high esteem. In the Western literary tradition, the heroic mode spans from ancient times, such as Homer's Iliad and The Odyssey, to the modern era. Drawing from the Western literary tradition, Vashon uses the heroic mode to construct a black role model for readers to draw a sense of inspiration, strength, and encouragement from.
Below is a portrait of Vincent Oge. Oge was of multiracial descent. His father was a white man of French descent and his mother a free woman of color. (This annotation contains an image)
Using the heroic mode, Vashon establishes that a hero must
Vashon contrasts Oge's steadfast, unmoving strength with the connotations of all of the following images EXCEPT
Here Vashon describes Oge as someone who is always vigilant and on guard, like a guest at a banquet who suspects someone is attempting to poison him.
Here Vashon alludes to the French Revolution, which Oge witnessed firsthand. Widely considered one of the most important events in human history, the French Revolution impacted social and political struggles for freedom and democracy around the world, including Haiti. (This annotation contains an image)
This is an example of a simile. A simile is a literary device in which a writer compares two separate images, ideas, or objects using "like" or "as." Watch the following short video to learn more about simile and metaphor, which is closely related to simile: (This annotation contains a video)
According to Vashon, a hero should
Oge was a freeman of color. This meant that he had more privileges and freedoms than those who were bound as slaves in the French colonies, but he was not afforded the full rights of a French citizen. His act of rebellion to gain rights for freemen of color in France and the French colonies inspired and sparked those who were oppressed as slaves to stand up for their rights and freedoms as well.
According to Vashon, a hero receives the "mother's curse" if
In Greek mythology, Sirens are beautiful, feminine creatures who lure sailors to their death with their songs.
Which of the following statements most accurately conveys Vashon's purpose in alluding to the Sirens?
All of the quotes help to convey the fact that Oge was taken captive EXCEPT
Following in the legacy of Oge, Toussaint L'Ouverture became the leader of the Haitian Revolution, which resulted in the abolishment of slavery there and the formation of the independent Republic of Haiti.
James Monroe Whitfield
Whitfield published this poem in 1853, before the Civil War started. For readers to understand a poet's purpose or theme, it is important to consider the time, place, and culture from which he or she is writing. Without an awareness of the time period in which Whitfield is writing, a reader might easily confuse the fact that he is writing about African Americans' service during the Revolutionary War with the Civil War. Watch the following video that explains point of view and cultural perspective. (This annotation contains a video)
Who does the phrase "framers of a code" describe?
Whitfield uses the details in these lines to develop which of the following themes?
Here Whitfield acknowledges the moral conflict between violence of war and the need to stand up and fight for one's freedom. Watch the video below to learn more about how writers convey this tension or conflict to readers. (This annotation contains a video)
The description of the "recreant throng" directly contrasts which character trait of John Quincy Adams?
Frances E. W. Harper
Which of the following phrases is most important to the organization and structure of this poem?
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer and scholar famous for the tragic play Faust.
Goethe's dying wish is different from what you might expect it to be. Which of the quotes below best conveys to the reader that his wish is unique and unexpected?
Who does Harper say cannot understand the suffering of those who are separated from their families through the slave trade?
Paying careful attention to the information conveyed in the title, the reader knows that the poem's subject, the "It" referred to in the poem, is Lincoln's official announcement that slavery is abolished. Pay careful attention to the verb tense the poet uses. What does the verb tense convey about the speaker's attitude?
In this context, the word "dumb" could be replaced with which of the following words?
In these two lines, the speaker of this poem maintains that she
Think back to Phillis Wheatley's poems that celebrate her salvation from the "heathen lands" of West Africa through her Christian faith. How does Harper's poem change the meaning of "heathen lands" here?
The speaker of this poem uses memories of people from her childhood in order to show
Joseph Seaman Cotter, Sr.
When a poet writes a poem from the voice or perspective of another historic or literary figure, it's called a persona poem. In this poem, Cotter writes from the voice of Dr. Booker T. Washington, a prominent African American leader and educator who founded the Tuskegee Institute to educate African Americans following the Civil War. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the speaker's critique of those who are trained in public speaking?
This poem is an example of an elegy. An elegy is a poem written to honor someone who is deceased. In a similar way as the heroic mode, an elegiac poem gives inspiration and encouragement to its readers to strive to be like the person the elegy honors.
Which of the following statements best explains the advice expressed in the highlighted lines?
In this poem, Cotter uses irony to develop his point. Simply put, irony is when what actually happens is the opposite of what is expected to happen. Watch this short video to learn more about irony. (This annotation contains a video)
Cotter conveys irony through Ned's speech in order to convey that
This poem uses a specific type of irony called verbal irony. Watch this short video to learn about verbal irony. Then, as you read the poem, carefully consider what the poem is really saying you should or should not do. (This annotation contains a video)
Willaim Lloyd Garrison was an American abolitionist and journalist. He is most famous for founding the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following statements best paraphrases America's "boasted creed"?
In this context, "liberty" could be replaced with which of the following words?
James Weldon Johnson
Reconstruction refers to the period in United States history from 1863 to 1877 in which the United States, at the direction of Congress, struggled to rebuild the South after the devastation of the Civil War. Most historians consider the efforts of Reconstruction to have been a failure because they failed to eradicate poverty or to grant civil rights to African Americans in the South.
In these lines, the unnamed slave finds a sense of freedom through
Which of the following literary devices does Johnson use to portray death?
Johnson employs dialect, which is the representation of the spelling, grammar, and pronunciation used by a specific group of people. Through dialect, writers characterize their subjects, revealing important and vivid details about where they are from, both culturally and geographically. As you read this poem, think about how the poet uses dialect in order to represent African American culture. Does his use of dialect have a positive or negative impact on stereotypes and perceptions of African American culture?
In this poem, Johnson retells the Biblical story of the creation in his own words, with unique and vivid imagery. Below is a link to the Biblical story of creation. Compare and contrast the details in the original story to the details and images Johnson uses. (This annotation contains a link)
Which of the following quotes best supports Johnson's theme that all of creation reflects the image of God?
What is the purpose of the details in the highlighted lines?
Which of the following best explains the author's purpose in retelling the Biblical story of creation?
Paul Laurence Dunbar
Paul Laurence Dunbar and Joseph Seaman Cotter, Sr use black dialect in their poetry, but to achieve different purposes. As you read, compare and contrast Dunbar's purpose in using dialect to that of Cotter.
Which of the following best describes the effect of the author's use of dialect in these two lines?
Taking inspiration from Dunbar's poem, African American poet Maya Angelou published a memoir titled "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," in which she credits her love for literature for helping her overcome her struggles against abuse and racism. Below is a link to the poem "Caged Bird" by Angelou. As you read these two poems, consider the messages of encouragement and strength both convey to their readers. (This annotation contains a link)
The rhyme scheme of the poem "Dawn" is
Robert Gould Shaw was a Union soldier during the Civil War. He commanded the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first official all-black regiment in United States history. (This annotation contains an image)
Shaw had been a student at Harvard prior to the Civil War. Here, Dunbar makes an allusion to Pallas Athena, who is the goddess of both wisdom and war in Greek Mythology. What does Dunbar's allusion to Pallas Athena reveal about the relationship between wisdom and the abolition of slavery?
Which of the following most accurately explains the relationship between the country of Ethiopia and Frederick Douglas as it is portrayed in this poem?
Frederick Douglas died of a heart attack following a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C. Dunbar uses the diction and imagery of a soldier fighting in battle to convey Douglas's unceasing fight for equality for everyone.
Corn is a plant native to the Americas and would not have been grown in Egypt during the time of Moses. Dunbar changes historical facts here in order to create a connection between the story of Moses freeing the Israelites from slavery to the abolitionist movement in America.
The author's uses the word "some" in this line in order to show that
The author includes these lines in order to
The author includes the imagery in these three lines to present his theme. Which of the following statements below best explains his theme?
In this poem, Paul Laurence Dunbar addresses Frederick Douglass directly. Compare this poem to his elegy for Douglas that you read previously. How is Dunbar's tone different in this poem?
Which of the following best describes the shift that occurs from the beginning of the poem to the end?
William Stanley Braithwaite
Braithwaite uses the image of the tide to represent
Often in poetry, the writer will use the seasons in order to convey specific moods. Watch the video below to learn about mood. Then, consider what mood Braithwaite evokes with his description of Autumn. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following words best describes the mood conveyed by the winter season?
The poem "The Watchers" leaves a lot unsaid, which requires the reader make inferences about what is happening in the poem. Watch the following video to learn more about how to draw inferences from a text. Then, as you read the poem, make inferences about what the two watchers are feeling. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following statements expresses the most logical inference about why the two watchers are sorrowful?
Part I Quiz
Poems included in this section of the anthology belong to the period known as the Harlem Renaissance. Watch this short video about the rise of African American writers, artists, and musicians during this important movement. As you read the poems in Part Two, observe the similarities and differences of the techniques writers use during this era, compared to African American writers before, during, and shortly after the Civil War. (This annotation contains a link)
Why does Spencer open her poem with the claim that "most things are colorful"?
"Blanced" is a form of the word "blanch," meaning to make something white by stripping it of its color.
Spencer uses figurative language and vivid imagery in order to develop the themes of her poem. Which of the following images best represents her theme that a lack of diversity weakens the beauty and wonder of the world?
While the Harlem Renaissance is one of the most pivotal periods in African American literature, African American writers who lived and wrote prior to this period paved the way and laid a strong foundation for the Harlem Renaissance poets to explore and express their culture and identity through poetry. Watch the short video below on how writers are influenced and draw inspiration from other writers. Then, as you read Spencer's short elegy for the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, consider how she places him in relationship to other great writers. (This annotation contains a video)
Using context clues in this poem, you can make an inference that each of these writers
Georgia Douglas Johnson
Consider other images and symbols you've encountered in this anthology relating to birds. Does Johnson use the symbol of a caged bird similarly or differently compared to how Dunbar uses it?
Which of the following most effectively conveys to the reader that growing more mature means being able to face setbacks and failures with a sense of resilience?
This poem is an example of an English (Shakespearean) sonnet. The sonnet is a poetic form of 14 lines written in a meter called iambic pentameter and follows this rhyme scheme: this rhyme scheme: abab, cdcd, efef, gg. The final two lines of the poem make up what is called the couplet. In the English sonnet, the couplet serves a very important role to the development of the poem's theme. To read more about the sonnet form, or to see additional examples, visit the link below: (This annotation contains a link)
In this poem, what distinguishes the "men" from "hogs"?
Which of the following statements best paraphrases the final couplet of this sonnet?
The speaker's nostalgic longing for the "old, familiar ways" is evoked by
The speaker of this poem inspires his audience not to wait until "Judgment Day." How does this poem reflect a shift in attitude towards freedom and salvation from before the Civil War up through the Harlem Renaissance?
The boll weevil is a beetle that feeds on cotton buds and flowers. In the 1920s, the boll weevil infested the southeastern United States, destroying the cotton crop and devastating many cotton growers and harvesters means of earning a living. (This annotation contains an image)
The mood of the poem changes in this line. Which of the following most accurately describes the shift in mood?
Melvin B. Tolson
Tolson borrows diction from musical notation in order to establish a specific mood for his readers. In music, "Allegro Moderato" means "a lively, moderate" tempo, or speed. How does this "lively, moderate" tempo impact how you read the lines of this section of the poem?
Crispus Attucks, a free black man and sea merchant, is considered the first casualty of the Revolutionary War: "the first to defy, the first to die." He was shot and killed by British troops during the Boston Massacre in 1770, five years before the Revolutionary War would officially begin. The event of the Boston Massacre, however, aroused fury and support for the independence movement, helping pave the way for other acts of rebellion against the British, culminating in the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War. (This annotation contains an image)
This is an allusion to Shakespeare's play "The Tragedy of Macbeth," which tells of the rise and downfall of the tyrant king Macbeth, who murders his closest friend and fellow soldier Banquo in order to maintain control of the throne.
Lento Grave is another musical term, meaning "very slowly and solemnly."
Andante Sostenuto means "at walking speed, sustained."
Section III opens with the tempo "Andante Sostenuto" in order to evoke a sense of patient perseverance. Each of the following details from Section III contributes to this mood EXCEPT
"Tempo Primo" means to return to the first tempo. In this context, this would be the tempo, or mood, of Section I, "Allegro Moderato": moderately fast.
During the Harlem Renaissance, the term "New Negro" was used to describe outspoken advocates for dignity and equality who refused to submit to racial oppression and injustice. What does Tolson's description of the New Negro as having "sprang from the vigor-stout loins" connote about the relationship between the "New Negro" and the historical figures and Civil Rights activists included in Section IV?
The wrongdoings referenced in Section V can be summarized as acts of injustice most likely to be committed by
This time, we have a "march tempo."
Sterling A. Brown
The speaker of this poem relates the crops that will grow to
"Frankie and Johnny" is a famous American folk song. Versions of the song date back to before the Civil War. Below is a recording of the song by famous jazz musician Louis Armstrong. As you listen to the song, consider who does wrong to whom in the song. Then as you read the poem, pay careful attention to how Brown represents Frankie and Johnny differently than in the song. (This annotation contains a video)
All of the following details work to foreshadow Johnny’s tragic fate EXCEPT
Ma Rainey (April 26, 1886 – December 22, 1939) is considered the "Mother of the Blues." Below is a link to her song "Deep Moaning Blues." (This annotation contains a video)
Listen to a recording of blues artist Bessie Smith, a protege of Ma Rainey, perform this song. (This annotation contains a video)
According to Brown's poem, which of the following statements below best explains the relationship between Ma Rainey and her audience?
In American folklore, John Henry worked for the railroad driving steel drills into bedrock to build the railroad. Legend goes that in order to prove his great strength and skill, he raced against a steam-powered hammer. Despite winning the race against the machine, he died with his hammer in his hand when his heart gave out from the exhaustion. What does the comparison to the tall tale of John Henry reveal about the desires and expectations of the speaker of the poem?
In this poem, "He" refers to
The term "passing" refers to when a member of one social group passes him or herself off as a member of another social group. In United States history, fair or light-skinned African Americans might have "passed" as white in order to avoid discrimination or oppression. The following article explains the complexity of racial identity and passing in United States' history, examining a recent controversial case of a Caucasian American woman who chose to "pass" as African American. As you read the following article, consider what it means to identify as a member of a specific race. In addition to skin tone, what other factors contribute to racial or ethnic identities? (This annotation contains a link)
What "gives away" Slim Greer's identity as African American?
The situational irony is created by the fact that the laws
African American literary scholar Joanne V. Gabbin points out that Brown creatively and humorously blends black folk tales with allusions to classical Greek mythology in a process she deems literary "cross-pollination." Like Slim Greer, the ancient myth of Orpheus who is allowed to enter the underworld in order to retrieve his love, Eurydice. As you read both the myth and the poem, look for details that foreshadow to the reader that there may be more at risk in such a journey than the characters realize. (This annotation contains a link)
A poem's theme should be universal, which means the theme should reveal insight and understanding about not just one specific culture but about human nature in any culture. While the context of this poem deals with racial injustice in the American South, the poem's theme offers commentary on injustice anywhere in the world. Which of the following details contributes to Brown's universal theme that anywhere in the world injustice and suffering can be found, humans themselves are responsible?
Brown's poem "Southern Road" shows the influence and impact Blues music has on poetry, creating a new form of poetry--the Blues form--that is distinctly American. Blues form generally (but not always) in which a statement is made in the first line, that statement is repeated but with a slight variation or change, and then an alternative statement is declared in the third line that gives the reader a sense of humor or irony, or a feeling of resilience and determination. As you read "Southern Road," carefully examine how Brown follows this pattern.
How do the final two lines of the stanza "Got no need, bebby, / To be tole" impact the lines "White man tells me--hunh-- / Damn yo' soul" that come right before?
In the poem "Strong Men," Brown uses the literary device called anaphora to create a sense of rhythm and reliability. Anaphora is the intentional repetition of a word or phrase, usually at the beginning of lines.
Each of the following is an example of anaphora in the poem except
All of the following details and imagery contributes to Brown's portrayal of Anne Spencer's garden as a place of serenity and shelter except
What does the speaker's description of the gardener reveal about his attitude towards her?
In addition to seeing the rise of many different African American writers, artists, and musicians during the Harlem Renaissance, many different ideas about how to address issues of race, civil rights, justice, politics, and economics flourished. This is due in large part to an increased investment, both financially and artistically, in African American publications such as newspapers, magazines, and journals. You can read about several of the more prominent journals that were printed and distributed during this time, and see the differences in theory, stance, or opinion the various journals came to represent. (This annotation contains a link)
The strong statement Bennett makes in the opening line of this poem--"I love you for your brownness"--rejects European beauty standards that privilege fair or light skin, especially in women. The following is an article that examines the legacy of colorism, discrimination based on skin tone or complexion, in African American Colleges, including Howard University where Bennett herself taught. In order to pledge in certain sororities or fraternities, a student had to pass the "brown paper bag test," in which the pledge's skin had to be lighter than a brown paper bag in order to be allowed to join. (This annotation contains a link)
Which of the following describes the shift that occurs in this line?
Like we saw in Gwendolyn Bennet's poem, poetry of the Harlem Renaissance celebrated the beauty and worth of African American identity. Here, Hughes uses the refrain "Black like me" to instill a sense of pride in being black in order to counteract a more mainstream American culture that saw being Black as something undesirable. The pride fostered during the Harlem Renaissance would lay the foundation for the "Black is Beautiful" Movement of the 1960s, which further celebrated African American identity and culture through the arts.
"Freedom is just frosting" is an example of what literary device?
During the Harlem Renaissance, Sugar Hill was a neighborhood in Harlem that became known for its affluent and prominent African American residents, including W.E.B. DuBois and Duke Ellington. The neighborhood stood in direct contrast to the misperception of Harlem neighborhoods as "slums" or "ghettos."
Which of the statements below best expresses the speaker's attitude towards his beloved?
The following recording is of Hughes reading his poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," giving brief context and background on where he found the inspiration for one of his best known and most beloved poems. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following is an example of personification?
Tantalus is a character from Greek mythology who lived in the underworld where he suffered eternal punishment for wrongdoings. Tantalus was made to stand for eternity in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree. The fruit was always out of reach, and if he bent to take a drink of water, the water would recede.
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus also had to endure eternal punishment. He was made to roll a large boulder up a hill. When he reached the top, the boulder would roll back down, so he'd have to start all over again, and again, and again.
Cullen's sonnet opens with the claim that "God is good, well-meaning" and "kind." What is the relationship between the opening line of the poem and the final couplet of the poem?
Here Cullen alludes to a well-known poem by the English Romantic poet John Keats: "Ode on a Grecian Urn." In this poem, Keats contemplates a scene carved upon the urn that is "frozen" in time. The subjects of the carving are also frozen, captured forever in a single moment. As you read Keats's poem and compare Keats's musings to Cullens, make an inference as to whether or not uncle Jim would be in agreement with John Keats that "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." (This annotation contains a link)
What can you infer about the Lady in Epitaph #4?
Which of the following statements most accurately conveys the speaker's attitude towards his African heritage?
John Brown was a radical abolitionist who believed that the only way slavery would be abolished would be through warfare. With 21 other men, he led a raid in Harper's Ferry, Virginia in 1859 to steal weapons and arm slaves. His raid was thwarted, and he was captured, tried, and hung for treason. In this poem, the speaker gives John Brown the nickname "Osawatomie Brown" after the Battle of Osawatomie, a skirmish fought between pro-slavery settlers and abolitionists in Osawatomie, Kansas. (This annotation contains an image)
Scottsboro, Alabama was the site of one of the most crucial trials in revealing the amount of injustice African Americans faced in the United States' justice system. Below is a short video that explains the significance of the trials of the nine Scottsboro boys. (This annotation contains a video)
Part II: The Harlem Renaissance
In poetry, one small word can have a powerful impact. Consider the significant impact the word "too" has on the poem's ability to convey the tireless sacrifice this father makes for his family.
Which detail from the poem suggests that even though the father cares for his family, there is still conflict within the household?
Socrates was a Greek philosopher who challenged the democratic ideal that "might makes right," or in other words, that the majority opinion always stands on the right side of justice. He was accused of "corrupting the minds of the youth" of Athens, for which he was sentenced to death by drinking poison hemlock. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following statements makes the most logical inference about what Hayden means by the "migratory habits of the soul"?
According to Hayden, how should Frederick Douglas be remembered and honored?
The nickname "Empress of the Blues" was awarded to blues singer Bessie Smith (1894-1937), a protege of Ma Rainey, who became the highest paid black entertainer of her time. While blues music is known for its ability to channel suffering and misery into song, Smith's songs were well-known for their expression of the mistreatment and heartache women suffered at the hands of men who'd "done them wrong." Her songs infused humor with heartbreak through the use of euphemism. (This annotation contains a video)
In French, this phrase means "cry from the heart."
What does the phrase "Their sad blackface lilt and croon" refer to?
Which of the following statements best paraphrases the speaker's attitude towards history?
Anaphora is the literary device used when a poem repeats a word or phrase at the beginning of the lines or stanzas of a poem. The repetition makes the word, phrase, or image more memorable and impactful for readers. In addition to using anaphora in poetry, many public speakers will use anaphora in order to impact their audience. What other examples of anaphora have you come across in this anthology or other texts?
Each of the following details contributes to the tranquil mood of spring EXCEPT
The speaker's attitude towards the south shifts from _____ to _____
In addition to rhyme, poets use other types of poetic and lyrical sounds to impact the reader. Another example of a poetic device is alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sound that occur at the beginning of words close to one another. In this line, Brooks repeats the consonant sound made by the letters "tw" in the words "twinklings" and "twinges." Even though both words share similar sounds, each word carries its own distinct connotation: "twinklings" carries a positive connotation while "twinges" carries a negative connotation. But by using alliteration, Brooks creates a relationship between these otherwise separate feelings.
Which of the following lines contains an example of alliteration?
What can you infer about De Witt Williams?
"We Real Cool" is one of Brooks's most well-known poems. What is unique about this poem is how she uses diction to characterize the subjects of the poem--the pool players. As you listen to Brooks read her poem aloud, listen to how she uses her own voice to convey the pool players' tone. (This annotation contains a video)
The speaker of the poem observes that the summer ripeness "rots" and that the "refuse is a neat brilliancy." Which of the following best describes how these images function in the poem as a whole?
Just like in fiction, poets use different points of view in order to position the reader in relationship to the speaker of the poem. This poem uses second person point of view, which is not as commonly used in fiction. As you read through this poem, consider the author's purpose in using the second person "you" point of view.
Miss Rich Girl is characterized primarily by
What literary device is present in this line?
In this line, the speaker shifts from
"Mentors" is an example of a Petrarchan sonnet (also commonly called an Italian sonnet). The Petrarchan sonnet, like the Shakespearean sonnet, is made up of fourteen lines. The first eight lines of the poem are referred to as the octave, followed by the last six lines, referred to as the sestet. Often there is a major shift or turn that occurs between the octave and sestet. This turn is called the volta. The volta presents a contrasting idea or perspective to be explored. As you read the poem, pay careful attention to the volta. How do the ideas of the sestet contrast that of the octave?
Who or what whispers to the speaker of this poem?
What literary device does the poet employ to convey the experience of listening to jazz music?
"Walking Parker Home" draws upon the music and image of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, nicknamed "Bird." Watch the following video of Parker performing with fellow jazz musician Coleman Hawkins, also alluded to in Kaufman's poem. As you watch the video and read the poem, what images does Kaufman use to capture the sounds of jazz to bring them to life as words on the page? (This annotation contains a video)
Kaufman uses metaphor to compare the policemen's perception of the prisoners to
"Beatnik" was the name given to artists, writers, and fans of the "Beat Generation" that emerged in American culture in the 1950s and 60s. The Beat Generation is best summed up with the words of fellow Beat poet Jack Kerouac, who described beatniks as "the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn."
In this poem, Kaufman uses the image of a jail cell to symbolize the constraints of each of the following EXCEPT
The title of this poem borrows from the poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace Stevens. Consider how Patterson constructs a connection between the "blackbird" and the "blackman," whose identity is fluid, shifting, and changing throughout the poem. (This annotation contains a link)
Patterson uses the image of the "cool blackness" dipped from a well in order to connote what?
Here, Patterson creates a pun with the double-meaning of the word "relief." Relief describes the emotional release from anxiety or fear, but it also refers to a type of carving in which the space around an image is carved away. An image carved in "relief" would be the opposite of an image carved in "intaglio."
What does this image connote about African American identity?
Walcott contrasts the coldness of winter with imagery that conveys warmth. Which of the following images DOES NOT convey a sense of warmth?
According to the Poetry Foundation, John Clare was an English poet born to a peasant family who worked on farms while writing poetry. He spent the latter part of his life in an asylum suffering from mental illness. Click the link below to read his biography and sample poems. (This annotation contains a link)
What does this image reveal about Clare's character?
Here Walcott is quoting from Dante's "The Divine Comedy": "In His will is our peace," which is repeated in English in the next line. Walcott will continue his allusion to Dante throughout this poem.
In "The Divine Comedy", author Dante Alighieri tells of his visionary journey through Hell ("Inferno"), Purgatory ("Purgatorio"), and Heaven ("Paradiso"). Throughout his journey, Dante has spiritual guides escorting him.
According to the speaker of the poem, what is the relationship between poetry and grief?
What is the speaker's relationship to the Biblical diction he quotes?
Earlier in the poem Walcott alludes to John Clare as a "poor Tom," one and the same person. Here, he distances Clare and "poor Tom" from one another, making two distinctly different allusions. Poor Tom is an allusion to the character of Edgar in the Shakespearean play "King Lear," who disguises himself as a madman named Tom and wanders the countryside praising small creatures such as frogs and gnats.
The ship the HMS Bounty led by captain William Bligh. During an expedition to Tahiti, there was a mutiny aboard, which resulted in Captain Bligh and 18 of his loyal crew members set adrift in the ship's open launch boat. Fletcher Christian was the man who led the mutiny. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following best describes the conflict the speaker faces?
In this context, what does the word trite most closely mean?
What is the speaker's sense of purpose in writing?
Following the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement represents another significant phase in African American literature, with wide-reaching effects that influenced both established and emerging African American writers, including Gwendolyn Brooks. As you read the following short article about the Black Arts Movement, make a prediction about what themes you expect to emerge from poems written by poets involved in this movement. (This annotation contains a link)
How does Gerald compare to Rufus?
"The Unsinkable" Molly Brown was the nickname given to Margaret Brown, a socialite who survived the sinking of the Titanic. She convinced the crew of her lifeboat, filled only with first-class passengers, to turn back to help rescue survivors in the water. (This annotation contains an image)
Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones)
Amiri Baraka's influence reaches far and wide in contemporary art and culture, including spoken word or slam poetry and hip hop. Watch the following Def Poetry performance and observe how he infuses music with political activism in order to reach his audience. (This annotation contains a video)
What literary device does Baraka use to describe the horizon?
The speaker of this poem calls for poems that
According to Marxist philosophy, society is divided between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie, who are the upper class, exploit the proletariat, the laboring working class, in order to increase profits and wealth for themselves. In this poem, Baraka draws upon this Marxist philosophy to represent the inequalities of both race and class in American society.
The character of Clay also appears in Baraka's controversial play "Dutchman," in which a white woman, Lula, engages Clay, a black man, in a discussion on a subway train in order to seduce him. Failing to fully win his affection and attention, she stabs him in the heart.
“I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self.” ― Audre Lorde (This annotation contains an image)
In this poem, "the man" is understood to represent
This image alludes to the famous song "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday that uses the metaphor of fruit hanging from a tree to address the dark and haunting history of lynching in the south. Below is a recording of a live performance of the song. (This annotation contains a video)
The anaphora "I have come" shifts to "I am here." Which of the following best describes the effect of this shift?
As you read Clifton's depictions of the "interior dimensions of African American life," including depictions of poverty, compare her work to that of Gwendolyn Brooks. In what ways are their poems similar? Different?
The poem uses the season of winter to convey a mood of
What literary device most effectively conveys the harmful effects of drug addiction on the African American community?
Rodney King was the victim of an act of police brutality in Los Angeles in 1991. Years before camera phones and YouTube videos, videotape footage of the police beating King was circulated widely through news coverage. Despite the widely circulated video footage, however, the jury acquitted the police officers of charges for their violent use of force. The acquittal sparked protests across the city of Los Angeles that escalated into riots. Below is an archived news article from the Guardian that reported on the aftermath of the beating and the acquittal at trial. (This annotation contains a link)
Which of the following statements best paraphrases Clifton's point in these four lines?
In Ancient Egyptian mythology, the Khu is the part of the soul that departs at the moment of death.
In Greek mythology, Clio was the Muse of history. She is often depicted holding a musical instrument called a lyre. The lyre was what bards played as they sang songs to tell the stories of famous events and heroes of the past. (This annotation contains an image)
Here, Wright quotes from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to describe the speaker's sense of self. Which of the following best explains the speaker's sense of self?
Art Tatum was a famous jazz musician. Below is a recording of him infusing jazz style into a classical piece by composer Antonín Dvořák. (This annotation contains a video)
From these details, what can you infer about the loved ones whose grave the speaker visits?
This is an example of antithesis. Antithesis is a rhetorical device in which two opposing ideas are presented side by side. Writers use antithesis to reveal a truth or meaning that hides itself within the contradicting ideas. What does Wright's use of antithesis reveal about how we perceive reality, or "what is"?
Which of the following best describes Wright's technique to describing the setting of the poem?
The Nahua are an indigenous culture native to central Mexico and El Salvador. An ancient culture, the Nahua predate the Aztec Empire, which they helped to build. Wright draws upon Nahual, or Aztecan, mythology in this poem. In Aztecan mythology, the world was created and destroyed in four cycles, leading to the creation of the present fifth world. (This annotation contains an image)
In this line, Wright presents two important motifs: "red" and "flower." Watch the short video below to learn about motifs. Can you identify other motifs present in this poem? (This annotation contains a video)
What motif does Wright use to symbolize the nearing of death?
The word "catalectic" is a poetic term that refers to a line in a metered poem that ends on an incomplete beat. Consider the effect of using this poetic term to describe the beating of a heart.
Michael S. Harper
John Coltrane was a famous jazz saxophonist. Below is video footage of a live performance of the song "A Love Supreme." Coltrane overcome a heroin addiction, about which he wrote, "I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music." (This annotation contains a video)
Despite overcoming his addiction, Coltrane eventually succumbed to cancer of the liver, which might have been caused in part by Hepatitis A contradicted by IV needle use.
"Tenor" refers to the middle range of a musical instrument or voice, such as the tenor saxophone. "Tenor" also means a continued or habitual act. What is the name of the literary device in which a writer draws upon dual meanings of a word?
Just as writers drew inspiration from jazz musicians, musicians have drawn inspiration from poets. Below is an audio recording in which the musician Paul Austerlitz improvises music to accompany Harper's poem. What images, words, or phrases do you think Austerlitz drew upon to inspire the mood of his music? (This annotation contains a video)
Why does the speaker assume his son did not know he was loved?
Angola is the nickname for the largest maximum security prison in the United States notorious for its bad conditions, harsh treatment of inmates, uprisings, riots, and attempted escapes.
What is the prisoner's attitude towards his past?
The jazz album "Kind of Blue" by trumpet player Miles Davis is one of the most famous and best selling jazz records of all time. Below is a video of a live performance of the album's song "So What," which also features saxophonist John Coltrane. (This annotation contains a video)
Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, was a period of violent and deadly destruction targeted at Jews, Jewish synagogues, and Jewish businesses by Germans. Watch this short film that discusses the terrifying event that marks the beginning of the Holocaust. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following lines illustrates antithesis?
Harper uses what literary device to describe the everyday simplicity of a little girl playing jacks?
Ralph Ellison's novel "Invisible Man," published in 1952, is one of the greatest novels in American literature, and addresses many of the complex issues such as racism and identity formation. (This annotation contains an image)
The "it" in this poem describes
Which of the following statements most accurately expresses the theme of this poem?
These details work together in order to
Duke Ellington was a big-band leader most notable for his performances at the Cotton Club in Harlem. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following most accurately identifies the contrasting attitudes between the "revolutionary" poet and the "reactionary" poet?
This is an example of apostrophe. Apostrophe is a literary device in which the speaker directly addresses a person or thing that isn't present and cannot respond by using the pronoun "you." Apostrophe has a similar effect to personification. In this poem, the speaker directly addresses the "Blues" as if he/she were a person.
Which detail best reiterates Young's portrayal of the blues as both positive and negative emotions?
Derricotte includes this detail in order to emphasize
Haki Madhubuti (Don L. Lee)
Each of the following has contributed to the formation of jo jo's sense of identity EXCEPT which of the following?
Following the Civil War and up through the Harlem Renaissance, writers used colloquial diction to portray African American culture and identity. What differences do you observe in how Madhubuti plays with unconventional grammar and spelling to convey the voice, identity, and culture of his subjects?
In this context, the word "pitchblack" is used in order to emphasize
Sherley Anne Williams
What can you infer about Miss Esther?
These lines contain an allusion to the novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by the white writer Harriet Beecher Stowe. In the novel, Topsy is a pitiable young slave who is poorly treated by her original masters. Saving her from this cruel fate, she is bought and given as a "gift" to the more compassionate mistress Miss Ophelia. What does this allusion reveal about the speaker's attitude towards the students?
What is the speaker's tone in these lines?
In this context, to "rout" is to retreat in a chaotic and disorderly context, like defeated troops might retreat from a battle. In what way are the neighborhood children defeated?
Here Williams makes a Biblical allusion to a verse from the New Testament: "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." This allusion functions to show the importance of the prayer meetings in the "praise grove" to providing hope and strength during slavery, which was threatening to their white masters.
This letter reveals what about the speaker?
Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) was a reclusive poet who grew up in New England. Read Dickinson's poem below, then read Nelson's poem honoring Dickinson. How does Nelson's characterization of Dickinson illuminate meaning in Dickinson's own poem? (This annotation contains a link)
Nelson's claim that Dickinson could "pray like the devil" reveals
Yevgeni Yevtushenko is a Russian poet who has written during and after the fall of the Soviet Union. As you read this poem, consider how Komunyakaa engages with Yevtushenko's foreign perspective on African American identity.
What is an elegy?
The poem "Facing It" is set in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. The memorial, designed by artist Maya Lin, lists the names of all the service men and women who died in the Vietnam War. When visitors stand in front of the wall, they see their own reflection alongside the engraved names in order to symbolically unite the past with the present. (This annotation contains an image)
What can you infer about Andrew Johnson?
What do the woman's actions reveal?
This poem utilizes enjambment, which means the line ends in the middle of a thought or sentence without pause or punctuation, continuing on into the next line. Using this method, the author is able to emphasize the rough unsteadiness of the imagery and syntax.
What statement below does NOT accurately describe an effect of the enjambed lines?
Consider the representation of the blues as a woman. How does the personification of the blues as a woman impact the speaker's relationship with the blues in this poem?
C. S. Giscombe
An allegory is much like a parable or fable. Allegories are stories in which the characters and events function as symbols that convey a philosophical or moral lesson. One of the most famous allegories is Plato's "Allegory of the Cave," which is a story meant to symbolize how humans fail to understand the true nature of reality.
The reoccurrance of the word "confluence" is an example of what literary device?
"Thomas and Beulah" retells the mostly-true, folklore-esq story of how her grandparents met and fell in love, a story passed down in her family across generations.
"El General" refers to Rafael Trujillo, former dictator of the Dominican Republic who ordered 20,000 Haitian migrant workers to be killed because they could not pronounce the Spanish word for parsley, "perejil," with a rolled "r" like native Spanish speakers.
This stanza is told from the perspective of
Stanza 2 is told from the perspective of
This line is in Spanish, but the letter "r" is replaced with the letter "l," which is how someone with a Haitian accent would pronounce the line. In conventional Spanish, the line would be "mi madre, mi amor en muerte," meaning "my mother, my love in death."
Each of the following details or images functions as a motif EXCEPT
Lauren Bacall was an actress famous on the silver screen of Hollywood. She represented the ideal of feminine beauty and charm. (This annotation contains an image)
What is another word or phrase used in African American poetry to identify the simultaneous, contrasting images of "shadow" and "light" in Billie Holiday's voice?
Billie Holiday's signature look included wearing white gardenias in her hair. (This annotation contains an image)
This is another poem that engages Wallace Stevens's poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" in order to develop complex representations of African American identity.
What is the conflict the speaker is grappling with?
The blues was carried to Chicago by the African Americans who migrated there from the Deep South. Watch the following short documentary about how the Blues found its new home in the Windy City of Chicago. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following character attributes most closely matches the way death is personified in this poem?
The chorus asks the speaker of the poem to describe the man's body using each of the five senses EXCEPT
Which detail best foreshadows that the speaker, Adam, will give in to the temptation of acquiring knowledge?
These are the names for chords in music that sound dissonant, the opposite of harmonious. Listen and watch the following recording of Thelonious Monk performing "Blue Monk." Can you identify the dissonant chords? (This annotation contains a video)
What detail gives the reader indication that the speaker disagrees with the professor's assertion that we must accept and not challenge the positions we are assigned in society?
Emmett Till was a young black boy from Chicago who was murdered while visiting family in Money, Mississippi. Allegedly, he whistled at a white woman, which led to his murder by white men. The short documentary explains the significance of Emmett Till's murder to the Civil Rights Movement. (This annotation contains a link)
In poetry, a dramatic monologue is when a character or persona relates an event or experience from their own perspective to an implied audience. There is no dialogue, nor is there explanation or context given. Reading a dramatic monologue, you must pay careful attention to the speaker's diction in order to make inferences about what type of person the speaker is.
Saartjie "Sarah" Baartman was an African woman who was dehumanized and put on display in a freak show for white audiences for her body shape. (This annotation contains an image)
This stanza takes the form of a dramatic monologue given by whom?
This stanza is in the form of a dramatic monologue given by whom?
Emmett Till's body was found strapped with barbed wire to a cotton gin fan at the bottom of the Tallahatchie River. Despite the mutilated and gruesome state of his remains, his mother insisted on having an open-casket funeral to show the world the brutality of racism her son had suffered.
What does this stanza reveal about the speaker Ali's motivations?
The "Rumble in the Jungle" was a famous fight between boxers Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire. The following short video highlights the political and cultural significance of the boxing matched deemed one of the most important sporting events of the 20th century. (This annotation contains a link)
In this dramatic monologue, the speaker Muhammad Ali explains how the Rumble in the Jungle changed his perspective. Which of the following statements best summarizes his shift in perspective following the fight?
Here Shepherd combines the myth of Narcissus with Plato's Allegory of the Cave. According to Greek mythology, Narcissus reached into a pool to touch the object of his desire--his own reflection. He touched only water, disturbing the surface and causing his reflection to disappear. He was so entranced with his own reflection that he could not bear to leave the lake, so he died there on its shore. (This annotation contains an image)
We've encountered allusions to the myth of Tantalus already in this anthology. What do you remember about the eternal punishment Tantalus was made to endure? (This annotation contains an image)
Like Narcissus, the speaker has fallen in love with something he cannot have. What is the object of his desire?
Part III: Post WWII Poetry