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Book Review: The Big Sea by Langston Hughes

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This autobiography mostly covers Langston Hughes’ twenties as a world traveler and worker, a reveler and poet in the Harlem Renaissance, and as a college student. He also discusses his early years  in order to show what shaped some of his actions as a person, writer, and poet.

One of the things that is enjoyable about this work is the honesty. If he felt ashamed, insecure, or mad, then he says so and explains. He doesn’t try to present himself as this genius poet who knows everything; he admits his flaws and shows he is as human as everyone else. Besides being honest about himself, he is also honest about his own race and everyone else by portraying the good and the bad side. One shocking thing he wrote about was the Washington Society,  a  group of cultured upper-class colored people who were snobs to Langston and other colored people who didn’t meet their standards.

Another admirable trait of this book is Langston’s writing style. While he does recount certain poems he wrote and what inspires them, he also displays an excellent prose writing ability through vivid sensory detail. For instance, he writes of Burutu women in Africa: “”Women of the night stood before low doors, with oiled hair and henna-dyed nails. In the golden light, they looked like dark flowers offering their beauty to the moon.” A particular line that became a favorite is about his poetry writing habit that goes, “For poems are like rainbows: they escape you quickly.”

Lastly, the theme of “a big sea” was a creative way to put a metaphor into an autobiography. Not only does it set the tone of the book, it makes the entire work seem like one poem. At the start of the work, there are the words, “Life is a big sea full of many fish; I let down my net and pull.” For this reader, it seems to mean learning to living life to the fullest with other people by learning to tolerate and appreciate them.

To sum things up, The Big Sea is a wonderful book that deserves to be read just as much as Langston Hughes’ poetry is. It is poignant,  funny, lively, and intelligent. I recommend this to fans of Langston Hughes’ poetry and those who are interested in the Harlem Renaissance.

Op-Ed: Is Poetry Dead?

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I was looking at the book section of Flavorwire when I saw an article posted in response to another article entitled, “Is Poetry Dead?”. I read the latter and was astounded. As a poet and a reader of poetry myself, I heartily disagree with the author of the article.

The reason the author of the article says poetry is dead today is because it hasn’t changed anything. By change, did she mean historically change society? Or, did she mean change people’s lives by getting the attention of a large number of people? I think it is both.

Why should poetry have to historically change society or attract the attention of a large number of people in order to change something? With most people being so technology and reality-tv obsessed and, shouldn’t people be happy that poetry still is being read and written by some people?

For instance, me. I have been writing poetry since I was thirteen years old. Discovering that I had the natural talent to write poetry (and as it would turn out, stories) made me happy. Until I discovered my writing talent, I thought I had no talent. If that newfound happiness is not a form of change, I don’t know what to say.

During my first two years of college, I’ve read many poets I never considered reading before: Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Gwendolyn Brooks, to name a few. Walt Whitman became my favorite poet to read for pleasure because his work showed me that no matter who we are or where we come from, we are all connected. For someone like me who has felt out-of-place for a long time, it was an immense comfort and another life-changing moment.

As for poetry that has been inspiring to my own work, Gwendolyn Brooks and her poem “We Real Cool” was the nugget that led me to a gold mine of inspiration from other African-American poets like Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar. All three of these poets inspired me to write about youth social issues with raw imagery. When I have enough poems, I will publish them in a collection.

Currently, I want to look for good introspective poetry to serve as inspiration for my own. I don’t know what poet will inspire me next, but when I discover them, it will be awesome.

Simply put,  If poetry can change just one person’s life and make them feel more alive, then how is it dead?

 

 

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