Henry Dumas's Poetry of a Natural Man

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Black American Literature Forum


Henry Dumas is a distinctively Black voice drawing on the images, rhythms, and myths of African and Afro-American culture. Yet even as he draws sustenance from the roots of ethnic identity and uniqueness, Dumas reaches for a large vision of unity. This dualistic impulse-which is the central tension energizing the multicultural literary movement of today-is announced most explicitly in his signature piece, the title poem of the 1974 Random House collection of his poetry edited by Eugene B. Redmond, "Play Ebony Play Ivory." In this poem, the title phrase recurs throughout as a refrain, its ebony and ivory serving at once as images of African origins and as symbols of a potential racial harmony. In this and other poems, Dumas sustains a simultaneous racial and trans-racial identity through a multilevel language of nature which can include and speak to all life-affirming peoples. Though not a nature poet in the usual sense, his are, as Redmond reminds us in one of the section titles in Play Ebony Play Ivory, poems of "A Natural Man. " In poem after poem Dumas employs natural imagery and perceptions to pierce the surface of skin color and penetrate deeper, opening us to our human root and re-establishing our connection to a natural universe of individually unique yet interdependent forces whose common purpose is life and growth.



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