Notable Books of the Twenties: The Weary Blues – Langston Hughes (1926)

The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes (1926)

The Weary Blues was the most important book by the Harlem Renaissance’s most famous author. Hughes rose to fame fast and furiously amid a cultural movement that marked the first time in US history that white America began to pay attention to African American literature. And with this collection of poems, he – alongside a handful of others – gave voice to a generation.

With his masterful use of language, tone and rhythms of jazz and blues music of the time, he spoke personally and powerfully to the experiences of Black Americans. While the titular The Weary Blues (included in poetry anthology Blues Poems) is his most famous poem, it is Our Land that contains one of the most memorable lines in 20th-century literature: “I, too, am America.”

FBI Files: Langston Hughes – Suspected Communist Party Propagandist

The bureau’s gripe with the poet began in 1940 when he spoke at a luncheon for the International Union of Revolutionary Writers in Pasadena, California. An advertisement for the event featured Hughes’ poem “Goodbye Christ,” which got the F.B.I.’s attention with lines that denounce Christ, saying he should be replaced by “Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME.”

In April 1943, the F.B.I. also took issue with a speech Hughes delivered at the W. Federal Street branch of the Youngstown Y.M.C.A. The bureau official reporting on the event wrote of Hughes:

This person is an “alleged” poet, reader, etc., but in reality he is a Communist Party propagandist delivering his lectures in negro YMCA’s and under the auspices of intellectuals.

Later that year on November 5, the F.B.I. compiled an internal security report on Hughes, bringing  attention to the poems “Goodbye Christ” (they note that their copy was “secured from the Enemy Alien Squad [and the] New York City Police Department”) and “One More ‘S’ in the U.S.A. Workers Sons” (“To make it Soviet,” as the poem explains).

During this time, the F.B.I. and the United States at large were obviously embroiled in the Cold War, but it’s still astounding to learn that a few poems could be considered a priority in terms of national security. A section of the report even insinuates that measures were taken to prevent the poetry’s circulation.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in – e.e. cummings

Edward Estlin (E.E.) Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He attended the Cambridge Latin High School, where he studied Latin and Greek. Cummings earned both his BA and MA from Harvard, and his earliest poems were published in Eight Harvard Poets (1917). As one of the most innovative poets of his time, Cummings experimented with poetic form and language to create a distinct personal style. A typical Cummings poem is spare and precise, employing a few key words eccentrically placed on the page. Some of these words were invented by Cummings, often by combining two common words into a new synthesis. He also revised grammatical and linguistic rules to suit his own purposes, using such words as “if,” “am,” and “because” as nouns, for example, or assigning his own private meanings to words. Despite their nontraditional form, Cummings’ poems came to be popular with many readers.

This is a later poem published in 1952 from Complete Poems: 1904-1962, it has always been one of my personal favorites.

FBI Files: Charles Bukowski – Suspected Dirty Old Man

September 2013, published all 113 pages of Charles Bukowski’s F.B.I. file. Bewildered by the U.S. postal worker’s “Notes of a Dirty Old Man” column in Open City, the bureau had begun following Bukowski, gathering as much information as they could to prove the writer’s self-proclaimed title as a “Dirty Old Man.” But besides arrests for public intoxication and a wedding in Vegas, most of what the feds dug up wasn’t so scandalous. The word from Bukowski’s neighbors was that he was “an excellent tenant” who kept to himself and didn’t have many visitors.

Notable Books of the Twenties: The Waste Land – T. S. Eliot (1922)

‘Complimenti, you bitch,’ wrote Ezra Pound to Eliot in 1922 upon reading a near-final draft of his friend’s latest work, which Pound had edited. ‘I am wracked by the seven jealousies.’ Pound – no slouch in the poetry department himself – knew not only that Eliot had just given the emerging Modernist literature movement its standard bearer, but that he had just read what would surely become known as one of the greatest poems of the 20th century. Sure enough, it did.

The masterpiece – about the devastating aftermath of the First World War – defied convention as it weaved different voices, to explore themes of trauma, disillusion, and death, wrapped in the barbed wire of Eliot’s electrifying intellect. With The Waste Land, he lay waste to old notions of poetry’s role as an art form, and changed the way it was written forever.

The Flapper – Dorothy Parker

In “The Flapper,” Dorothy Parker shares the wild charisma of a young woman in the 1920s by describing her actions as well as reactions from others. As stated in the poem, “Her golden rule is plain enough- just get them young and treat them rough,” the flappers’ only rule was to have no rules. This is important because the carefree nature of the flapper was envied by their fellow young women, admired by gentlemen and frowned upon by elders. Parker explains this by saying that “Her girlish ways make a stir… All tongues her prowess herald,” this proves that they didn’t go anywhere unnoticed. Whether she received a good reputation or bad; she just appreciated the attention. Because of the line from the poem, “She’s not what grandma used to be, you might say, au contraire,” meaning that while times were changing, women were as well. This demonstrates that Flappers were independent, original women. They were nothing like past women of America; they created a new outlook, and with that, a new era. The individuality and strong traits of these young women are that of what inspires girls today to be one of a kind, powerful people.

The Flapper – by Dorothy Parker

The Playful flapper here we see,
The fairest of the fair.
She’s not what Grandma used to be, —
You might say, au contraire.
Her girlish ways may make a stir,
Her manners cause a scene,
But there is no more harm in her
Than in a submarine.

She nightly knocks for many a goal
The usual dancing men.
Her speed is great, but her control
Is something else again.
All spotlights focus on her pranks.
All tongues her prowess herald.
For which she well may render thanks
To God and Scott Fitzgerald.

Her golden rule is plain enough –
Just get them young and treat them

The Danger of Writing Defiant Verse – Dorothy Parker

And now I have another lad!
No longer need you tell
How all my nights are slow and sad
For loving you too well.

His ways are not your wicked ways,
    He’s not the like of you.
He treads his path of reckoned days,
    A sober man, and true.

They’ll never see him in the town,
    Another on his knee.
He’d cut his laden orchards down,
   If that would pleasure me.

He’d give his blood to paint my lips
    If I should wish them red.
He prays to touch my finger-tips
   Or stroke my prideful head.

He never weaves a glinting lie,
    Or brags the hearts he’ll keep.
I have forgotten how to sigh—
    Remembered how to sleep.

He’s none to kiss away my mind—
A slower way is his.
Oh, Lord! On reading this, I find
A silly lot he is.

Dorothy Parker’s Birthday

Today in Literary History —> Happy Birthday to Dorothy Parker, American poet, satirist and critic best known for her wisecracks and sharp wit. Her writing graced the pages of Vogue, VanityFair, and The New Yorker, and she was a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, a famous 20th century New York literary circle.

Following the breakup of the circle, Parker traveled to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting. Her successes there, including two Academy Award nominations, were curtailed when her involvement in left-wing politics led to a place on the Hollywood blacklist. Dismissive of her own talents, she deplored her reputation as a “wisecracker.” Nevertheless, both her literary output and reputation for sharp wit have endured. Born on this day in 1893…

FavoriteWriters #HappyBirthday #DorothyParker #AlgonquinRoundTable