GRE Reading Comprehension
The making of classifications be literary historians can be a somewhat risky enterprise. When Black poets are discussed separately as a group, for instance, the extent to which their work reflects the development of poetry in general should not be forgotten, or a distortion of literary history may result. This caution is particularly relevant in an assessment of the differences between Black poets at the turn of the century (1900-1909) and those of the generation of the 1920's. These differences include the bolder and more forthright speech of the later generation and its technical inventiveness. It should be remembered, though, that comparable differences also existed for similar generations of White poets.
When poets of the 1910's and 1920's are considered together, however, the distinctions that literary historians might make between "conservative" and "experimental" would be of little significance in a discussion of Black poets, although these remain helpful classifications for White poets of these decades. Certainly differences can be noted between "conservative" Black poets such as Countee Cullen and Claude McKay and "experimental" one such as Jean loomer and Langston Hughes. But Black poets were not battling over old or new styles; rather, one accomplished Black poet was ready to welcome another, whatever his her style, for what mattered was racial pride.
However, in the 1920's Black poets did debate whether they should deal with specifically racial subjects. They asked whether they should only write about Black experience for a Black audience or whether such demands were restrictive. It may be said, though, that virtually all these poets wrote their best poems when they spoke out of racial feeling, race being, as James Weldon Johnson rightly put in." perforce the thing the Negro poet knows best"
At the turn of the century, by contrast, most Black poets generally wrote in the conventional manner of the age and expressed noble, if vague, emotions in their poetry. These poets were not unusually gifted, though Boscoe Jamison and G, M, McClellen may be mentioned as exceptions. They chose not to write in dialect, which, as Sterling Brown bas suggested, "meant a rejection of stereotypes of Negro life," and they refused to write only about racial subjects. This refusal had both a positive and a negative consequence. As Brown observes. "Valuably insisting that Negro poets should not be confined to is sues of race, these poets committed [an] error… they refused to look into their hearts and write." These are important insights, but one must stress that this refusal to look within was also typical of most White poets of the United States at the time. They, too often turned from their own experience and consequently produced not very memorable poems about vague topics, such as the peace of nature.
According to the passage, most turn-of-the-century Black poets generally did which of the following?
- A Wrote in ways that did not challenge accepted literary practice.
- B Described scenes from their own lives.
- C Aroused patriotic feelings by expressing devotion to the land
- D Expressed complex feeling in the words of ordinary people.
- E Interpreted the frustrations of Blacks to an audience of Whites.
Correct Answer: A