Harlem Gallery and Other Poems of Melvin B. Tolson

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Featured in the film "The Great Debaters," Melvin B. Tolson was not only a debate coach but one of black America's most important modernist voices. This first complete collection of his poetic work, brilliantly annotated by Raymond Nelson, gives Tolson his proper place in American poetry.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Admired by unlikely allies during his lifetime, Tolson (1898-1966) is due for reappraisal: this weighty book of all his mature poetry may be just what he needs. Tolson sought to depict African-American concerns in long poems modeled on T.S. Eliot and Hart Crane. His Libretto for the Republic of Liberia (not an opera libretto, but a book-length ode in eight parts) tries to do for that African nation what Crane's The Bridge did for the U.S. His longer, harder book-length Harlem Gallery (left unfinished at his death) records, in 24 intricate sections, the thoughts and symbolic deeds of a figure called the Curator, who meditates on art and history as he encounters symbolic personages, among them the outspoken Dr. Nkomo; "Hideho Heights,/ the vagabond bard of Lenox Avenue"; Guy Delaporte III, "symbol/ of Churchianity"; and John Laugart, the powerful creator of a painting called Black Bourgeoisie: "This castaway talent/ and I" (the Curator and Laugart) "were fated to be/ the Castor and Pollux of St. Elmo's fire/ on Harlem's Coalsack Way." Tolson alludes to everything from Bessie Smith to Sir Toby Belch, "the bulls of Bashan" and the Sicilian Vespers; his elaborate lineations announce at once the worth of high, complex art and the integrity of Black experience. If his baroque approach frequently seems overblown, the ambitions behind it remain impressive and moving. Tolson provided his own annotations to Libretto; Harlem Gallery's battalions of allusions have quite properly prompted editor Nelson to add brigades of endnotes. This volume also includes Tolson's more conventional first book, Rendezvous with America (1944), and several shorter uncollected poems. Former Poet Laureate Dove's introduction furnishes useful hints for reading Tolson, linking him to other Black writers. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813918655
  • Publisher: University of Virginia
  • Publication date: 8/28/1999
  • Pages: 508
  • Sales rank: 895,591
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Raymond Nelson is the Arts and Sciences Professor of English at the University of Virginia. Rita Dove is former Poet Laureate of the United States and the Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia. Her most recent collection is On the Bus with Rosa Parks.

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Table of Contents

Editorial Statement
The Mountain Climber 15
Old Man Michael 16
When Great Dogs Fight 17
My Soul and I 18
An Ex-Judge at the Bar 19
Whence? 21
The Town Fathers 22
The Furlough 23
The Man Inside 25
Old Houses 26
The Poet 28
Esperanto 30
Views 32
The Unknown Soldier 33
1 Allegro Moderato 37
2 Lento Grave 37
3 Andante Sostenuto 38
4 Tempo Primo 39
5 Larghetto 40
6 Tempo di Marcia 41
A Song for Myself 45
The Shift of Gears 52
The Ballad of the Rattlesnake 53
A Scholar Looks at an Oak 56
A Primer for Today 59
The Gallows 60
The Blindness of Scorn 61
If You Should Lie to Me 62
A Hamlet Rives Us 63
The Traitor to France 64
A Legend of Versailles 65
The Note 66
Inevitability 67
The Braggart 68
The Big Game Hunter 69
The Dictionary of the Wolf 70
Vesuvius 73
The Shipwright 80
The Triumph Aster 81
The Bard of Addis Ababa 83
Damascus Blade 88
The Street Called Straight 90
Babylon 92
The Idols of the Tribe 97
Tapestries of Time 107
African China 125
A Long Head to a Round Head 129
The Man from Halicarnassus 131
E. & O. E. 134
Abraham Lincoln of Rock Spring Farm 150
Do 159
Re 161
Mi 162
Fa 163
Sol 164
La 168
Ti 169
Do 178
Notes to Libretto for the Republic of Liberia 189
Alpha 209
Beta 211
Gamma 216
Delta 219
Epsilon 224
Zeta 227
Eta 233
Theta 244
Iota 247
Kappa 254
Lambda 258
Mu 261
Nu 267
Xi 269
Omicron 283
Pi 288
Rho 293
Sigma 296
Tau 301
Upsilon 302
Phi 323
Chi 335
Psi 342
Omega 355
Notes and Commentary to Harlem Gallery 365
The Published Works of Melvin B. Tolson 471
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