cover image Selected Poems of Calvin C. Hernton

Selected Poems of Calvin C. Hernton

Calvin C. Hernton, edited by David Grundy and Lauri Scheyer. Wesleyan Univ, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8195-0036-6

Cofounder of the Umbra Poets Workshop and a member of the Black Arts Movement, Hernton (1932–2001) was a pioneer in the field of Black studies who placed his contributions and identity as a poet above his other accomplishments. The lively anecdotes in Ishmael Reed’s foreword to this comprehensive and immersive retrospective bring to life Hernton’s character: a charismatic genius with a penchant for drama who accepted wild dares, got into altercations with Norman Mailer, and suffered the effects of systemic racism. Reed notes that “In poetry, Calvin Hernton dared to go where others were scared to go,” as is evident in “The Distant Drum”: “I am not a metaphor or symbol./ This you hear is not the wind in the trees./ Nor a cat being maimed in the street./ I am being maimed in the street.” The short, often anthologized poem memorably ends: “I am a poet./ It is my fist you hear beating/ Against your ear.” In “Southern Laughter,” Hernton writes of “Laughter from the throats/ Of folks/ Who know nothing/ But pain and misery,” and describes a scene of widespread “fear and race hatred.” This necessary volume contextualizes and celebrates a complicated and visionary poet’s work. (Aug.)