Robert Hayden: National Poetry Month


Robert Hayden via wikimedia. Link to license

It’s the last day of April and April is #NationalPoetryMonth. So I wanted to share a poem by a poet that I just discovered, Robert Hayden.

Robert Hayden was an African-American poet who was born in Michigan. He had a tumultuous childhood. He was raised by a foster family after his parents separated. The families frequently fought with each other and Hayden often suffered abuse. He was also farsighted and was unable to participate in recreational activities, such as sports and teams. He was not fully accepted by his peers, as a result. His difficult childhood and unique vision led to his interest in reading. He immersed himself in literature, particularly poetry. Later, he studied for a time at Detroit City College, then left early to participate in the Works Progress Administration Federal Writing Project. He married in 1940 to Erma Morris (she was a pianist and a poet). He continued his education at the University of Michigan. He later taught at Fisk University after pursuing his Master’s degree. He was the first Black American to have the position of Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Today this position would be called a Poet Laureate. Hayden never fully embraced being a ‘black poet,’ and considered himself an American poet, but many of his writings focused on notable African-Americans like Malcolm X and other African Americans from his “native Paradise Valley.”  Learn more:

Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden:

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Read more here:

I love this poem. I read it at night, and it reminds me of my father and all the hard work that he put into raising and caring for us. Although my father raised me, sometimes I feel like I don’t fully know him. There is always a mystery to our parents. We are used to seeing them as “mom” or “dad,” but they were young people once who had and have their separate lives.

This poem paints such a vivid image in my head. I can see the father in the kitchen early in the dark, damp, cold morning, warming his hands, perhaps drinking coffee and preparing to go out into a colder world to provide for a family. This poem speaks to a sense of loneliness even in the presence of others to me. There also is a sense of rage or resentment that permeates. I think it highlights the complexity of a relationship and how one can both hurt and love someone and be hurt and loved by someone. I think back to how Hayden had such a traumatic childhood and the latent anger and resentment that must have caused, I can feel it very strongly in this poem.

#NationalPoetryMonth: Jessie R. Fauset

A photo of a poem by Jessie Fauset, title is "There is confusion" Source:

April is National Poetry Month. April is almost over, but better late than never. I thought that I’d share a poem by Jessie Redmond Fauset.

Harlem Renaissance writer, Jessie Redmond Fauset was a journalist, novelist, poet and civil rights advocate. She worked for the Crisis, which was an NAACP paper (founded by Dubois). The focus of many of her works was changing the perception of Black professionals. She brought the Black middle class into the limelight through her work during a time when Black people were routinely portrayed through a stereotypical lens. She pushed the Uncle Tom, Mammy and Aunt Jemima stereotypes aside and brought a more realistic, diverse portrayal of the Black middle class to life.

It makes sense that Fauset aimed to portray Black people in a more diverse, dignified light when you consider her background. Fauset was born April 27, 1882, in New Jersey and attended Philadelphia Highschool for Girls. She graduated as a valedictorian, possibly the first Black valedictorian. When she got older, she wanted to attend Bryn Mawr College, but they were so against accepting African-Americans that they were willing to pay for Fauset to attend another school of her choice. She chose to attend Cornell and graduated in 1905 with a degree in Classical Languages. Later, she earned her Masters in French from the University of Pennsylvania.

She became a teacher in the segregated Dunbar school in Washington, DC, where she taught French/Latin. Fauset also spoke and taught French in Washington, DC and New York City and spent her summers studying at the renowned La Sorbonne in France.

She wrote four novels, represented the NAACP at the Pan African conference and co-authored the Black children’s literary magazine, The Brownies Book. 

She mentored Langston Hughes, the famous African-American Harlem poet and may have taught James Baldwin.

She was an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta.

Fauset married to Herbert Harris, at the age of 47, and died on April 30, 1961.

Without further ado, enjoy this poem by Jessie Fauset-

La Vie C’est la Vie

On summer afternoons, I sit

Quiescent by you in the park,

And idly watch the sunbeams gild

And tint the ash-trees' bark

Or else I watch the squirrels frisk

And chaffer in the grassy lane;

And all the while I mark you voice

Breaking with love and pain.

I know a woman who would give

Her chance of heaven to take my place;

To see the love-light in your eyes,

The love-glow on your face!

And there's a man whose lightest word

Can set my chilly blood afire;

Fulfillment of his least behest

Defines my life's desire.

But he will none of me,

Nor I Of you.

Nor you of her.

'Tis said

The world is full of jests like these.

I wish that I were dead.

To me, this poem speaks of love desired, but not realized. Perhaps the woman is giving all of herself and bargaining for love. Others look at her love in envy, but she wants to die. How do you interpret this poem. Am I not thinking deeply enough?

Notable Novels by Fauset:

  • There is Confusion
  • Plum Bun
  • The Chinaberry Tree


Source 2