Friday, April 30, 2010

33. The Block

Hughes, Langston. The Block. ISBN: 978-0-670-86501-7. Metropolitan Museum of Art. First Edition, 1993\5.

Plot Summary
The Block is a a compilation of Langston Hughes poems from his previous collections One-Way Ticket (1949), Selected Poems (1959), and The Panther and the Lash (1967). The urban nature of these poems serve as the script for Romare Bearden's art instillation The Block (1971). Bearden's art depicts the vibrant life that exists in the streets of Harlem. Through Hughes' poetry, he illustrates a collage landscape where African Americans interact in church, at corner shops, and on concrete doorsteps. Hughes' poetry explores the kind of events that take place on city blocks across America. His poems are about love, dreams, life, music, and death. Together these two profound artists create a work of art that depicts the feelings and emotions of a movement and a neighborhood that changed the world forever.

Critical Evaluation

To live in Harlem is to be truly awake to the world that exists outside your window. Outside this window is the city block; the neighborhood, the place where you and I grew up. The neighborhood depicted in poet Langston Hughes' and artist Romare Bearden's The Block, is vibrant, loud, and very much alive. The urban city block they share with the world comes from their memories and experiences living in Harlem. Hughes was an important poet and figure during the Harlem Renaissance, and Bearden is one of the most renown artists to have lived and worked in the neighborhood that inspired The Block. Hughe's poems are very honest, touching, and often humorous. His variety of styles and tones reflect the diversity of life that is present in the changing city block. While a child dreams of becoming the next big boxer, another man dies, and another young couple share a balcony serenade. Life on the block is constantly moving, breathing, and evolving.

The lives of those living in Harlem is explored through depictions of churches, barbershops, and city concrete in Beardens' mixed media compositions. Bearden utilizes cut paper, newspaper clippings, and vibrantly colored paints to provide a sense of depth and texture to his almost cinematic depictions of city interactions. With each turn of the page Bearden's art provides a sense of movement for readers as the images follow one another other like a slide show of Harlem life. Bearden's diverse art suits the nature of Hughes' poetry well. The clever graphic depiction of the text also works in this title. Each poem heading is presented in large multicolored fonts, that read and feel as loud as the art and poetic stories. The mesh of graphic design, poetry, and a unique art style make The Block the perfect companion for poetry fans, people living in urban environments, and art enthusiasts. The simple nature of Hughes poetry reads more like memory than rhyming verse. Every poem written by Hughes in this compilation feels stunningly real, as if each section were an account of actual events.

Reader's Annotation
The city block is is a living and breathing environment with it's own recognizable voice. Poet langston Hughes interprets this voice through beautiful poetry accompanied by the vibrant and gritty collage art of Romare Bearden in a tribute to Harlem, in the poetry collection The Block.

Author Information

Langston Hughes is considered one of the most profound and influential poets to emerge from the Harlem Renaissance. While known for his poetry, he also wrote and published essays, novels, historical works, operas, and children's books. The majority of his work dealt with African American life and issues. Hughes lived in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance and many of his most important works are inspired by the neighborhood's surroundings. Hughe's was a very influential man and met and knew many of the world's important political and cultural figures. During his career as a writer he traveled extensively, but he always returned to his home and his creative inspiration in Harlem.


Curriculum Ties

poetry, Harlem Renaissance

Reading Level
Grades 8+

Book Talking Ideas
Discuss the Harlem Renaissance.
How does the poetry and artwork compliment one another?

Challenge Issues

Reason For Selection

This poetry book was on display in the young adult section at my local library, and I was immediately drawn to the collage artwork of Romare Bearden. I have very little experience with poetry and I wanted to include some items in my database that were more urban in nature. Langston Hughes' poems and Bearden's artwork in this title compliment each other remarkably well, and this is a book that I wouldn't hesitate recommending to teens who live in an urban environment.

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