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Anthems, Sonnets, and Chants

Recovering the African American Poetry of the 1930s

Jon Woodson

Publication Year: 2010

Anthems, Sonnets, and Chants: Recovering the African American Poetry of the 1930s, by Jon Woodson, uses social philology to unveil social discourse, self fashioning, and debates in poems gathered from anthologies, magazines, newspapers, and individual collections. The first chapter examines three long poems, finding overarching jeremiadic discourse that inaugurated a militant, politically aware agent. Chapter two examines self-fashioning in the numerous sonnets that responded to the new media of radio, newsreels, movies, and photo-magazines. The third chapter shows how new subjectivities were generated by poetry addressed to the threat of race war in which the white race was exterminated. The black intellectuals who dominated the interpretative discourses of the 1930s fostered exteriority, while black culture as a whole plunged into interiority. Anthems, Sonnets, and Chants delineates the struggle between these inner and outer worlds, a study made difficult by a contemporary intellectual culture which recoils from a belief in a consistent, integrated self.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-x

My thanks to Dorcas Haller—professor, librarian, and chair of the Library Department at the Community College of Rhode Island—for finding the books that I could not find. Carol Doreski sent me many invaluable books. I thank Alicia Catlos for digitally transcribing the unpublished...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-14

Literary recovery is a response to some mode of marginalization. In the case of the black American poetry of the thirties, there were three directly marginalizing factors: racism, history, and ideology. As Wahneema Lubiano has shown, racism presents a particularly difficult...

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1. The Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression: Three Long Poems

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pp. 15-68

The three poems discussed in this chapter—Wright’s surrealist montage, Dodson’s sonnet sequence, and Jenkins’s Whitmanesque catalog—are representative texts through which black poets have given literary form to the crash and the Great Depression. These poems might seem to have...

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2. Existential Crisis: The Sonnet and Self-Fashioning in the Black Poetry of the 1930s

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pp. 69-141

It is highly significant that the first chapter of this study includes a consideration of the jeremiad in the black poetry of the 1930s. An inescapable sociocultural stimulus—the American institutionalization of lynching1—compelled black poets to assume the jeremiadic posture of...

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3. “Race War”: African American Poetry on the Italo-Ethiopian War

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pp. 142-189

The Italo-Ethiopian War (1935–36) was a notoriously unequal armed conflict that resulted in Ethiopia’s subjection to Italian rule. According to Enzo Traverso’s capsule history of the major armed conflicts that took place in the 1930s, the build-up to the Second World War began with...

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A Concluding Note

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pp. 190-196

The fluid nature of literary recovery (tied as it is to reception, reputation, publishing, prizes, cultural turns, and paradigm shifts) was reified for me recently when a postal clerk affixed a sixty-one-cent Richard Wright 2009 commemorative stamp to my envelope. Previously, the reconstruction...

Appendix. Poems

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pp. 197-234


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pp. 235-252

Works Cited

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pp. 253-270


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pp. 271-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270738
E-ISBN-10: 0814270735
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814211465
Print-ISBN-10: 0814211461

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2010