TalkHarlem Renaissance

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Jul 13, 2023, 12:08 am

Langston Hughes’s Collected Poems is an essential collection with many self-evidently great poems. But from a readerly standpoint, I have to dock a point or two because, as even Hughes’ editors admit, there is a ton of inferior verse here - “doggerel”, they all too accurately call it. Hughes did not wait for inspiration to produce; maybe he couldn’t, from a survival perspective. And because the output seems terribly choppy in its poetic value, so too seems the quality of thought - from sharp as a tack to extremely mushy.

Past a certain point, and for better or worse, he was very caught up in being the public figure “Langston Hughes”. Compare to his peer Sterling Brown, who was a serious-minded professor at Howard University and had no interest in fame, hence he could be much more sparing in his output and give every single poem he published his “all”. Two very different writing strategies!

Dec 23, 2023, 8:02 pm

I agree that the Langston Hughes Collected Poems is maybe too much. Hughes did want to have a career as a writer, hence the wide variety of work he created, and also wanted to be a spokesperson for African Americans which made him very conscious of his image as the Public Figure Langston Hughes as you mentioned. Langston Hughes Selected Poems was my introduction to him, and probably the first book of poetry I owned.