When I just now finished reading Claude McKay’s poetry, I audibly sighed I wish there was more. I’m left wanting more—not more in the sense that something is lacking from his lines—I merely desire to read more of his thoughts and re-read what’s there because his poetry’s significance is timeless and its form so well executed. Let’s just say, I’m now an official fan of Claude McKay.
The poem “Outcast” was one of my favorites of our anthology’s selection of McKay:
Lines 1-5 address the speaker’s fond reminiscence of his native land and his desire to return there. Lines 6-8 interrupt the speaker’s fantasies of home with But, explaining his problem of national identity. Lines 9-12 (third quatrain) offer the implications of the speaker’s problem—his alienation and his status as a “ghost among the sons of earth, a thing apart.” The final two lines complete the sonnet with a final assertion of the speaker’s predicament.
I can feel the passion with which he writes, the personal experience that both haunts his lines and prompts his message. I definitely made many markings to this poem in my anthology, circling/underlining/highlighting the words and phrases that clustered around the themes of alienation, nationality, and oppression, the language of darkness, and—what reminded me of Du Bois’ language—the references to the spirit and song.
- “regions whence my fathers came”
- “a ghost” (reminded me of Ellison’s invisible man lacking being)
- “a thing apart”
- “far from my native clime”
- “out of time”
- “something in me is lost, forever lost”
- “dim regions whence my fathers came”
- “forgotten jungle”
- “my native clime”
- “go back to darkness and to peace”
- “bondaged by the body”
- “the great western world holds me in fee”
- “never hope for full release”
- “to its alien gods I bend my knee”
- “under the white man’s menace”
- “dim regions”
- “go back to darkness”
- “spirit longs”
- “my soul would sing”
- “vital thing has gone out of my heart”
- “something in me is lost”
- “my soul would sing”
- “forgotten jungle songs”
The more I re-read this poem, the more I’m struck by the poet’s allusion to a sort of double identity, which again reminds me of DuBois, this time with his idea of double consciousness. I’m also left with a couple questions concerning the words/phrases above. The speaker refers to his native land with the adjectives dim and darkness and his usage of these adjectives seems to be positive. I wonder if McKay utilizes the adjectives dim and darkness to allude to blackness and imply positivity about blackness through his usage of these adjectives? Moreover, in the third quatrain, is what is being lost in the speaker a sense of being/identity, his African nationality, or blackness? Or, is it a combination of all three that he loses?
D. A. Powell’s poem “Long Night Full Moon” reminds me of McKay’s poetry for its attention to issues of race, but mostly for its witness to those issues. Powell explains his poem’s witness: “This poem was inspired by the death of Michael Brown, particularly the way in which Brown’s death and the ensuing protests were covered (or, in many cases, not covered) on mainstream media. Social media and the #BlackLivesMatter movement kept this story from being buried or ignored. This poem is about witness, the most powerful tool we have against injustice and state-sponsored violence, terror, discrimination, and murder. The poem is not an elegy. It is a report on America.” Both authors report about issues that pertain to their specific moments in American history, offering invaluable witness, as Powell contends, against injustice and state-sponsored violence, terror, discrimination, and murder. I enjoy how Powell both concisely articulates and plays with language associated with weather in order to communicate his report.
“Long Night Full Moon” | D. A. Powell
You only watch the news to find out
where the fires are burning, which way
the wind is blowing, and whether
it will rain. Forecast ahead but first:
A mother’s boy laid out
in the street for hours.
These facts don’t wash away.