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Nations of Nothing But PoetryModernism, Transnationalism, and Synthetic Vernacular Writing$
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Matthew Hart

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195390339

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195390339.001.0001

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Transnational Anthems and the Ship of State

Transnational Anthems and the Ship of State

Harryette Mullen, Melvin B. Tolson, and the Politics of Afro-Modernism

(p.142) 5. Transnational Anthems and the Ship of State
Nations of Nothing But Poetry

Matthew Hart

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers the aesthetic, literary‐historical, and political meanings of the term “Afro‐modernism.” It first introduces Melvin B. Tolson's modernist epic, Harlem Gallery (1965), via the innovative blues quatrains of Harryette Mullen's Muse & Drudge (1995), explaining how both poems exemplify an embattled “Afro‐modernist” tradition. The chapter then analyzes Tolson's 1953 Libretto for the Republic of Liberia via the documentary evidence of his appointment as Liberian Poet Laureate. As a late modernist epic about an oligarchic state led by freed slaves, Libretto witnesses a crucial overlapping of the narratives of diasporic nationalism and African “local imperialism.” The chapter concludes by explaining how the poetic form of Libretto registers the schism between the modernizing statecraft of the Liberian elite and the transgressive “countermodernity” of Pan‐Africanism.

Keywords:   Harryette Mullen, Melvin B. Tolson, African‐American poetry, Afro‐modernism, synthetic vernacular, Liberia, African diasporic culture, state patronage of poetry, Pan‐Africanism

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