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Specters of DemocracyBlackness and the Aesthetics of Politics in the Antebellum U.S.$
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Ivy G. Wilson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195337372

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195337372.001.0001

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Rhythm Nation

Rhythm Nation

African American Poetics and the Discourse of Freedom

Chapter:
(p.59) 3 Rhythm Nation
Source:
Specters of Democracy
Author(s):

Ivy G. Wilson

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195337372.003.0004

This chapter extends the discussion of rhetoric and sound by considering issues of prosody to analyze how African American poets used songs and musical cadences to translate their political messages. It examines various sonic emanations including muted voices, song lyrics, and instrumental airs embedded in mid-19th century African American verse by poets such as James M. Whitfield and Joshua McCarter Simpson. Focusing primarily on Frances Ellen Watkins (Harper), it interrogates how these poets exploited musical elements of prosody as mnemonic devices to simultaneously fashion their verses as artful poetry and political discourse. Theorizing this art form as “the remix,” the chapter illustrates how utterly attuned African Americans were with the idioms of the national language and how they engaged in practices of code-switching.

Keywords:   James M. Whitfield, Joshua McCarter Simpson, prosody, code-switching, Frances Ellen Watkins, idioms, ventriloquize, reverb, double-voicing, soundscape

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