Online edition of Shunpiking
Published on Feb 2002
Culture & Life
In 1926 Langston Hughes, famed African-American poet most widely associated with the Harlem Renaissance, published The Weary Blues.
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon
I heard a Negro play
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway…
He did a lazy sway…
To the tune o‚ those Weary Blues … 1926.
1926!? I still can’t believe this piece was a product of 1926! Wasn’t that the year the Sweets were battling a myriad of injustices stemming from race riots that left bullet holes in their home and a considerable weight imprinted on their beings? And yet amidst all of this turmoil a black man had the courage to write in the vernacular – to write using the beautiful language of his people, embracing the racial idiom without fear of persecution. What is the racial idiom? I’ve heard it called in reference to William Grant Still’s Afro-American Symphony; written in 1931, the opening theme of this piece is essentially a 12 bar blues – so is the racial idiom simply a synonym for the blues? I doubt very much that it carries this restriction, mainly because I have found it in so many other mediums. I found it somewhere in high school when I began the awe-inspiring ‘discovery of self’ – it fuelled the process in which I discovered my voice as a poet, the process in which I began to feel the crumbling of the confined walls that had been built around my psyche. It was then that I subconsciously freed my word from the restraints of pre-established poetic forms and became bonded in griots, Renaissance writers, djembes and talking drums, and strived to embrace the vernacularism that was so evident in X’s pro-activism, Garvey’s black nationalism, Dr. King’s socialism, Mandela’s patriotism, Coltrane’s saxism, Erykah’s Baduizm …
The discovery of self is a liberating experience, and so I urge that if you’ve not yet experienced the freedom of lifting up your voice, calling it your own and discovering its infinite beauty, that you strive to realize the infinity of your possibilities, and ask yourself the profound question: What’s yo izm!?
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