My “guest poet” this time is Langston Hughes, American,1902-1967.
He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry. Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City. He famously wrote about the period that “the negro was in vogue”, which was later paraphrased as “when Harlem was in vogue”. It’s a little poem I memorized long ago and sometimes recite to myself.
Sometimes I don’t write poetry, but just ponder, in writing, why I—or anyone—ever writes poetry at all. What qualifies as poetry anyway? Strong emotion? Rhythm and rhyme? Some persons call themselves poets, and some do not. Maybe every child is a poet, only some keep it up, into adulthood.
Some poets just want their work to exist for itself, and prefer to keep personality out of the public eye. Others are looking for love and attention, or just to get something off their chest. Poetry can be a vocation and/or a profession. Emily Dickinson eschewed publication; Mary Oliver thrives on popular success.
There is a whole tradition of those who lived their lives as poets in the past—a tradition of poetry as craft, or prosody. It records, to the present day, many changes of sensibility and taste, and is wonderful study for word lovers.
The famous poet W.H. Auden was once asked what advice he would give a young person who wished to become a poet. Auden replied that he would ask the young person why he or she wanted to write poetry. If the answer was “because I have something important to say,” Auden would conclude that there was no hope for that young person as a poet. If, on the other hand, the answer was something like “because I like to hang around words and overhear them talking to one another,” then the young person was at least interested in a fundamental part of the poetic process and there was hope for him or her.