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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   



10. Rhythms
in Poetry


•  Unit Overview
- Instructor
Overview
- Bibliography
& Resources
- Glossary
- Learning
Objectives
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Unit Overview: Glossary

free verse - Poetry that does not depend on traditional form and meter. Some of the features of free verse include enjambment, visual patterning, and varying line lengths. With the exception of Frost, McKay, and Cullen, most poets in this unit wrote in free verse.

Great Migration - The movement of thousands of African Americans from the South to the North. This mass relocation began at the turn of the twentieth century and continued through the 1920s, as black Americans left behind the racially divided South with its Jim Crow laws and enduring prejudices in the hopes that they would find equality and opportunity in the North. As the growing industrial section of the country, the North did offer more jobs, but dismal housing conditions, low wages, and racism made the North a disappointing destination for many blacks. Still, the steady increase in African Americans in the North, particularly in Harlem, made it possible for African Americans to build a sense of community and racial identity.

jazz - A style of music that developed in America in the early twentieth century in New Orleans and other southern cities. It is characterized by syncopated rhythms, improvisation, extremes in pitch and dynamics, call and response, and experimentation. Jazz draws on traditional African American music, and swing jazz, which was popular in the 1920s, and has often been described as following the patterns of speech. Indeed, the instruments in a jazz piece often seem to be "talking" back and forth to one another.

modernism - A literary movement that reached its peak in the 1920s, modernism developed in two rather different strands. American modernism, as practiced by Williams and Hughes, is characterized by an interest in portraying ordinary subject matter in concrete, vernacular language. Modernist poetry written in Europe, as characterized by Eliot, tends to be highly allusive. The poems are nonlinear and often refer to the modern condition, particularly the city, in a deeply critical manner. This strand of modernism tends to use a disembodied voice and a collage-like method.

New Deal - Federal programs developed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration (1933-45) to restore economic stability and prosperity. The government created and funded thousands of jobs, many of them in public works and the arts.

orientalism - A term coined by literary and cultural critic Edward Said to denote a fascination with Asian culture. For Said, it is this fascination, and cultural appropriation, which is real-rather than any actual image of Asian cultures. Modernist poets like Pound and Williams implicitly critique modern society by turning to Asian culture, which they see as foreign and exotic. Viewed as an escape from or alternative to the increasingly mechanized and alienating modern world, the Orient is used as a symbol of a more tranquil life. Modernist poets were attracted by particular characteristics of Asian art, including the affinity with nature, appreciation of the ordinary, and commitment to clean, economic language. Like primitivism, orientalism can often seem patronizing and even racist because it tends to view all Asians and Asian culture stereotypically.

primitivism - An artistic style that privileges "simpler" times or cultures over a more "advanced" or modern way of life. Primitivism idealizes earlier times and it looks to rural living as an answer to the problems of modern civilization. Many twentieth-century poets idealized classical times by using mythology in their poetry. Other writers turned to Africa and images of the noble savage as an antidote to modern life.

Red Summer - Term coined by James Weldon Johnson to refer to the period between June 1919 and the end of that year, during which twenty-five race riots erupted around the country. In addition, more than seventy blacks were lynched in 1925, and the Ku Klux Klan experienced a frightening revival in the South and Midwest. After serving bravely in World War I, many black veterans were understandably bitter and resentful when they returned to the United States and lost the respect that they had experienced as members of the armed forces.

Talented Tenth - A term coined by W. E. B. Du Bois to refer to the upper echelons of the black race who would use their education and talent to improve the situation for African Americans. See the context on "the Talented Tenth" in Unit 9.

vernacular - Language that sounds colloquial or imitates the everyday speech patterns of a group of people. Poets like William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes, and Robert Frost all write in the vernacular, but because they capture the conversational qualities of different groups of people, their verse sounds very different. In the modern period, many poets were interested in portraying characteristically American speech and language. They felt that through language they could capture and create a uniquely American poetry and, perhaps also, a truly American identity.




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