ASK YOUR MAMA by Langston Hughes


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As a Negro poet of the Twenties, Langston Hughes coupled touching observations of his people with a Harlem low life idiom. In the Sixties, he's updated all their struggles, mixing them with the coffee house patter of the Beats or the more hip dialectic of the Village boite. The transformation, unfortunately, is not too successful. Ask Your Mama is a set of twelve moods for jazz, a kind of free verse newsreel, using the ""Hesitation Blues"" as leitmotif, around which any number of improvisations can be woven. Most of the pieces are delivered in that declamatory brash and bouncy manner late of the San Francisco scene and now having such a vogue in the East. The rhythm is telegraphic, the phrasing fine for slogans and the images go flying all over the place. There is a sardonic, semi-revolutionary tone employed, covering everything from Southern injustice and ""white mammies"" to a virtual catalogue of big names, e.g. Faubus, Eastland, Martin Luther King, Belafonte, Ghana, the Congo, Leontyne, Nkrumah, NAACP, Lumumba et al. As a sensitive study of prejudice, this is out; as a rollicking, sometimes riotous indictment, this is quite fashionably in. It should be felicitous when recited at night clubs and will undoubtedly gather partisans, but lovers of real poetry won't be among them.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1961
Publisher: Knopf