The definitive guide to a major African American poet
This volume promises to be the definitive guide to Calvin C. Hernton's unparalleled poetic career, re-introducing readers to a major voice in American poetry. Hernton was a cofounder of the Umbra Poets Workshop; a participant in the Black Arts Movement, R. D. Laing's Kingsley Hall, and the Antiuniversity of London; and a teacher at Oberlin College who counted amongst his friends bell hooks, Toni Morrison, and Odetta. As a pioneer in the field of Black Studies, Hernton developed a theoretical and practical pedagogy with lasting impact on generations of students. He may be best known as an anti-sexist sociologist, following in the footsteps of W.E.B. Du Bois, but Hernton viewed himself, above all, as a poet. This volume includes a generous selection of Hernton's previously published poems, from classics like the often anthologized "The Distant Drum" to the visionary epic The Coming of Chronos to the House of Nightsong, reprinted in full for the first time since 1964, alongside uncollected and unpublished material from the Calvin C. Hernton papers at Ohio University, a new critical introduction, and detailed notes, chronology, and bibliography.
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
It is I who weep, laugh, feel pain or joy.
Speak this because I exist.
This is my voice
These words are my words, my mouth
Speaks them, my hand writes.
I am a poet.
It is my fist you hear beating
Against your ear.
Acknowledgments • Introduction, South to North: Early Work • Statement (1962) • Remigrant • The Underlying Strife • The Distant Drum • For Ghana, 1957 • Blues Spiritual (For Billie Holiday) • Richard Wright  • Richard Wright  • Being Exit in the World • The Wall • Feeling • Blues for • Handy • Young Negro Poet • The Lower East Side and Umbra • Umbra: A Personal Recounting (1993) • Ballad of the Shoe String Kid (For David Henderson) • The Long Blues • 125th Street • Harlem, U.S.A. (For David Henderson) • Burnt Sabbath • Mount Morris Park • Harlem (April, 1962) • Hate Poem • Elements of Grammar (To Little John) • The Gift Outraged, • The Coming of Chronos to the House of Nightsong (1964) • From "Les Deux Megots Mon Amour" (1985) • The Coming of Chronos to the House of Nightsong, Part One: The Legacy of the House • Part Two: The Metaphysics • Part Three: Time for a Change • Medicine Man • From "Les Deux Megots Mon Amour" (1985) • Medicine Man • Almost Sunday • Taurus by Aster Fire (To Ree Dragonette) • A Ballad of The Life and Times of Joe Louis • The Great Brown Bomber • The Patient: Rockland County Sanitarium (For Portia) • Fall Down (In memory of Eric Dolphy) • D Blues • Riots and Revolutions • From "Dynamite Growing Out of their Skulls!" (1968) • Terrorist (For the four Negro children murdered in Birmingham while praying to God) • The Mob • Jitterbugging in the Streets (To Ishmael Reed) • "Without a passport to humanity:" London Poems • Contributor biography for Black Fire (1968) • An Unexpurgated Communiqué to David Henderson, London—1966 • Game Life • London, 1967 (To Colin MacInnes) • Country • Oberlin, Ohio: Later work • From "Chattanooga Black Boy" (1996) • Low Down and Sweet, Hands, Rites, Ohio Myself, Ohio Klan, Oberlin Negroes • Oberlin, Ohio • The Tap House • South Main Street, Oberlin Ohio • Oberlinian Quartet • The Point • Night Letter to John A. Williams (4 a.m., est.) • Crossing Brooklyn Bridge at 4 O'Clock in the Morning • August 4th, 1979 • A Cat By Any Name (For Amiri) • Grenada, October 1983 (To Dessima Williams) • Stars Bleed, Michael Stewart—Enunciation • From The Red Crab Gang and Black River Poems (1999) • ONE: The Red Crab Gang (excerpts) • TWO: Black River Poems (excerpts) • Black River • Ohio Listening • Portrait of a Poet • Previously Unpublished Poems • You Take a Country Like America • Poor Mildred's Delicatessen • Calvin Hernton Seeks To Build And Preserve A House (To Mildred) • When Broomriders Black • Deep Sea Blues • Id and Ego • 1961 (Time past contained in time future—T.S. Eliot) • Southern Laughter • Statement (For the class of 1954) • Black Metathesis • Hank Dixon and the Law • A Lantern For Abigail Moonlight (To Nora Hicks and Ree Dragonette) • Litany in Winter's Garden (For Richard Wright) • The Passengers (For Allen Ginsberg) • Wooing of the Little Girl Who Lives in a Dark Hall (To Ree Dragonette) • Mad Dogs in Vietnam • A Canticle for the 1960s (For Ree Dragonette, in memorial) • Chronology • Notes • Selected Bibliography • Index of Titles • Index of First Lines
"Selected Poems of Calvin C. Hernton restores this important activist and writer to his rightful place in American literary history, covering in detail a prolific career that framed and helped ignite the cultural explosion that was the Black Arts Movement."~Tyrone Williams, David Gray Chair, SUNY Buffalo
"In this collection, the full range of Calvin Hernton's voice soars, from smoky Umbra into registers sacred and profane, raging and comic, righteous and tender. A revelation."~Tsitsi Jaji, author of Mother Tongues
"Reading Hernton's selected poems is like stepping into a time machine to witness the rise of the Black Arts Movement first hand. Hernton's lyrical dexterity—his ability to transition from a blues-inflected poetic mode to poems that model a chord progression in jazz to one that both embraces and simultaneously critiques poetic modernism in the U.S.—is unmatched. David Grundy and Lauri Scheyer have done American poetry and poetics a tremendous service by recovering one of the Black Arts Movement's founding voices."~Herman Beavers, Julie Beren Platt and Marc E. Platt President's Distinguished Professor of English and Africana Studies, University of Pennsylvania
"This necessary volume contextualizes and celebrates a complicated and visionary poet's work."~Publishers Weekly
"Hernton is appealing to the powers, the forces of change, that can inhere in poetic language, powers that insist on new connections, new spaces for thought; that hold out for an ongoing metamorphosis."~Howard Slater, Penniless Press
"The publication of the Selected Poems of Calvin C. Hernton (Wesleyan University Press, 2023), edited by the scholars David Grundy and Lauri Scheyer, presents the occasion to assess Hernton's incredible range. More than 220 pages, including many previously unpublished and uncollected poems, an insightful set of notes, a meticulous bibliography, and a deft introduction by the editors, Selected Poems is a long-overdue retrospective of one of the 20th century's most important yet least-known Black American poets. Selected Poems is the first opportunity for readers to encounter the full scope of Hernton's poetry in one volume."~Nick Sturm, Poetry Foundation