Sunday, November 3, 2013

Analysis of "News from Harlem" by Kwame Dawes

Original poem reprinted online here: "News from Harlem" by Kwame Dawes
Originally read: May 19, 2013
More information about the Poet: Kwame Dawes

This poem plays with the definition of a man from race mentality to group mentality, and through all the definition the poem weaves in history and vernacular.  Furthermore, by the title, "News from Harlem" there's already a racial slant in which the speaker states.

So I'm going to list the various types of men from the first ten referenced of the poem and discuss how the definition shifts and changes through context:

1) African man
2) Black men
3) those men
4) a man
5) knife men
6) cutlass men
7) roots men
8) Congo men
9) yellow eyed quiet man
10) white man

The lines open up with the focus on lineage -- African man which brings a sense of heritage to the poem with the unbecoming description of "fat-faced."  And so there's the tension of what people and speaker sees an African Man through language and the perception of the figure "African man" versus "one of those black men."  Also note the difference between the individual perception and the group perception.

The line about magic men is tempered with "knows what God must feel like / standing over an army of angels."  The analogous between the unknown and god brings the same conclusion of powers over "angels" power and authority.  With this the speaker then compares these men to "those men who's stood at the edge / of the new century and seen a wide / world of what could be;"  The description and the topic falls a little flat here because of how the other descriptions over power them.  But these men are the "angels" -- the ones that are dominated and the language shows the difference between Gods who know and Angels who watch.

The focus on the individual man listens to Du Bois and the reference how Du Bois paraphrased, "everybody will be talking / about niggers like they are new money."  This money is powerful statement in which the line cuts because of the history of "nigger" and the perception of them to be "new money."  The poor will be rich -- or rather, the term will be changed from an unworthy put down to a linguistic artifact perhaps.

The poem continues on about the individual man how he has "two big hands and a head / full of words who knows the freedom / of nothing to lose."  Past me said that this was cliche, but the way the lines cut there's a sense of "freedom" and "constraint" with the lines -- the pull between one side and the other.

Then there's the list of men in which a man defines as rebels, "knife men, cutlass men, / roots men, Congo men, / those yellow-eyed quiet men"  This refers to the language of lineage.  Before the focus on the African man, and here there's a focus on violent and outsider men who were rebels.  Note the language of rebels versus terrorist.  Rebels has more of a positive connotation versus the harsher terrorist.  At least to me I'm more sympathetic to the rebels in this poem because of the description rather than action.

Then the focus is on "white man" (note the individual). And the focus here is on the physical "heart still thumping, / everything inside him slick."  A really personal position which transfers to a group of white men which are "ain't nothing but flesh, old rotting /flesh like everybody else."  Note that there's not an attack based on race, rather on rhetoric.  Earlier there's a talk over the dominance of the magic men -- here the speaker is presenting white man as the opposite -- human.  Not angels who observe, and not gods who domineer, but human "like everybody else,"

So why did I focus on this list, because the reference to the "man" changes to something more historic and less sociological/philosophical in the last 1/3.  The change happens with a simple transition of, "Well, news has it that this man / is causing trouble in Harlem / and the world won't be the same / when he's done with it."  Now everything stated before is the backdrop of what the man from Harlem is thinking.  A sort of exposition that describes the current motivation of the man described.

This man brings out the they who march, shout, and wave flags.  Note that the they is repeated to slow down the poem.  Here the focus is on how the man who:

     with his proud, high voice
     showering imperatives on the folks
     who gather to hear him talk
     with his sweet island singing.

There's a sense of magic with this man from Harlem.  Past me note, "allusion to MLK."  And current me doesn't think so in a sense.  This man with so much background and thoughts in his mind comes to the people more of a "magic man" than an activist.  The question is what is he saying -- what has enthralled a community and labeled him dangerous.

The voice of the poem turns to the we with:
     'cause we all need a daddy,
     a man with a good firm voice
     a man who knows what we must.
     do to change this wearying world.

Note that the man is a leader who gives, meanwhile the men are those who follow.  The poem ends with the man with being analogous to "dreams / of ship" in which is red, gold, and traveling.  The last line, "coming in, coming in, coming in" brings a weird effect to the poem.   Either the the men are excited for the man to come, or the an observer among men notes how many of this type of man comes in, and comes in, and comes in -- but stays within the dream.  A part of me wants a sort of clarification, but I like the end being either or because I can't rectify the situation having both connotations.

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