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The Black Poets Paperback – April 1, 1985
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From the Publisher
"The claim of The Black Poets to being... an anthology is that it presents the full range of Black-American poetry, from the slave songs to the present day. It is important that folk poetry be included because it is the root and inspiration of later, literary poetry. Not only does this book present the full range of Black poetry, but it presents most poets in depths, and in some cases presents aspects of a poet neglected or overlooked before. Gwendolyn Brooks is represented not only by poems on racial and domestic themes, but is revealed as a writer of superb love lyrics. Turning away from White models and returning to their roots has freed Black poets to create a new poetry. This book records their progress."--from the Introduction by Dudley Randall
From the Inside Flap
"The claim of "The Black Poets to being... an anthology is that it presents the full range of Black-American poetry, from the slave songs to the present day. It is important that folk poetry be included because it is the root and inspiration of later, literary poetry. Not only does this book present the full range of Black poetry, but it presents most poets in depths, and in some cases presents aspects of a poet neglected or overlooked before. Gwendolyn Brooks is represented not only by poems on racial and domestic themes, but is revealed as a writer of superb love lyrics. Tuming away from White models and retuming to their roots has freed Black poets to create a new poetry. This book records their progress."--from the Introduction by Dudley Randall
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I already knew about Randall because I graduated from Cass Technical High School, one of Detroit's jewels, in June, 1969. At Cass, I majored in Computer Programming. But, because I was always an avid reader, huge fan of poetry, and loved to write, I took several advanced English courses, where we studied a few of Randall's poems.
So, when I got to U of D, the first thing I heard was that Dudley Randall, the author of "the Ballad of Birmingham", a sad, but powerful tribute to the 4 little Black girls murdered by a bomb planted in the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church, in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, a mere 18 days after the historic March on Washington, was the reference librarian.
His desk was on the first floor. And, whenever I saw him, he was working methodically and quietly, among stacks of books that were scattered about on what must have been his desk. It wasn't until I took several Black Literature courses, during the latter days of the Black Arts Movement in Detroit, that I discovered the real Dudley Randall and his impact on Black literature and American letters, in Detroit and around the country.
Using his own money, Randall founded and financed the Broadside Press, located near the U of D campus, while working full time as a reference librarian. And his pioneering work as a Black publisher and mentor to a generation of young Black poets, like Don Lee, later known as Haki Madhubuti, and ex-convict, Etheridge Knight, best known for his poem, "the Idea of Ancestry" and the folk poem, "I Sing of Shine", opened up the closed doors of the White publishing world, and introduced White and Black America to a generation of Black poets, who had a lot to say.
In one of my Black literature courses, taught by Mary Helen Washington, years before she became Dr. Mary Helen Washington, of "Black Eyed Susans and Midnight Birds" fame, one of the books we used, "the Black Poets", originally published in 1971, has to be called Dudley Randall's magnum opus.
He was not only the editor of this unprecedented anthology, but some of his most complex and profound poetry, like "Black Poet, White Critic", "Roses and Revolutions", and "A Different Image", was included.
As implied by each of the seven 5-star reviews, and explicitly stated by Dudley Randall in his scholarly introduction, from the beginning of the Black sojourn in America, through the 1960's, "the Black Poets" is the definitive anthology of Black poets, and their struggle to define themselves, the Black experience, and the movement towards the creation of what Randall called "a new poetry".
This book is an absolute treasure. It should be be read and re-read by anyone who loves literature, in general, poetry, in particular, and is open-minded enough to benefit from the wisdom and profound insights this ancient art provides into the complexities, contradictions, failures, hopes, indomitable spirit and triumphs of the Black people who often died in attempts to make the promise of America a realilty.
From the simple, but power packed rhythms, rhymes, and dialect of the "folk poetry" of unknown Black bards:
"We raise de wheat,
Dey gib us de corn;
We bake de bread;
Dey gib us de crust;
We sif the meal;
Dey gib us de huss;
We peel de meat;
Dey gib us de skin;
and dat's de way
Dey take us in),
to Countee Cullen's 20th Century musing about what Black people, forcibly removed from our native land, may have lost, and the real meaning of the African Diaspora,
What is Africa to me:
Copper sun or scarlet sea,
Jungle star or jungle track,
Strong bronze men, or regal black
Women from whose loins I sprang,
When the birds of Eden sang?
One three centuries removed
from the scenes his fathers loved,
Spicy grove, cinamon tree,
What is Africa to me?,
Dudley Randall's, "the Black Poets", carefully and repeatedly read, takes American literature, poetry, and the idealistic, pristine life it often depicts, and turns it upside down, so that anyone, Black or White, with the eyes, heart, and willpower to discern and accept the truth, about the real Black experience in America, can be inspired to begin the hard work of making this country the land of freedom and equality, for everyone, that God meant it to be.