Blues rather than mulatto poems a subtitle reserved

This preview shows page 160 - 162 out of 375 pages.

Blues” rather than “Mulatto Poems,” a subtitle reserved for a group of non- criollo poems rendered in more standard USAmerican English dialect. Hughes had initially named the section “Blue Notes,” which he crossed out and changed to “Cuban Blues” on July 26, 1945 (LHP, 424:9430). In addition to seven of the eight original “Motivos,” “Cuban Blues” also in- cludes the poems “Curujey” and “Me bendo caro” from Ramón Güirao’s anthology Orbita de la poesía afrocubana (1938). 43 Although it may be tempting to read the choice of a black vernacular evocative of Negro dialect for these poems—there are nine of them in all—as an exoticizing pitch to a predominantly white readership, we know from Hughes’s letters that his target audience for Cuba Libre was the African American intelligentsia in
144 The Worlds of Langston Hughes the USA, inside and outside academia, especially after the project had failed to excite the interest of larger publishing houses that did not believe there was anything in it for them. 44 It is also significant that Carruthers at the time taught at Howard Uni- versity, one of the historic centers of the black elites in the USA, where he would have had his hand on the pulse of prevailing academic tastes. 45 Edu- cated African Americans in the 1940s would surely have looked askance at the Negro dialect of the plantation tradition as a suitable literary vehicle for representing their own lives and views. In that, their response would have been no different in kind from the disdain with which Havana’s colored elite had greeted what editor Urrutia called Guillén’s “real negro poetry” two decades earlier. Commenting rather patronizingly “on the language and feelings of our dear negroes made most noble by the love and talent of our own poets,” Urrutia wrote to Hughes in 1930: I am only sorry that you will be unable to translate and even understand what these poems mean, but you must know that the spirit of them is [the] same as the blues; some ones are sad, some are ironical, others are sociological, viz Ayé Me Dijeron Negro. This is the first time that we have real negro poetry and they have [ sic ] a big hit with the public. Of course there is a bunch of high-life negroes which condemns this kind of literature, same as in the states. 46 Urrutia, himself a mulato and part of Havana’s professional elite, was rather unkindly alluding to the members of Havana’s Club Atenas. Many of them were troubled by Guillén’s portraits of Havana’s blacks, which they read as embarrassing racial stereotypes. Guillén himself wrote a letter addressed to “mi querido Langston” the day after the “Motivos” had initially appeared, remarking happily “que los poemas de son han gustado extraordinaria- mente, y han formado un verdadero escándalo, por tratarse de un género completamente nuevo en nuestra literatura” (that the son -poems have been extraordinarily well received, and that they have caused a veritable scandal for having been written in a genre entirely new to our literature).

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture