Thursday, November 16th, 2017...8:16 pmpierrec

Honey’s Questionnaire Response

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Maureen Honey’s response to McKible and Churchill’s questionnaire revolved around the lack of diversity in the cannon, specifically non-white individuals and females. She says that the cannon is “reflective of the inequalities in American life” as it is built upon the intellects of the “five or six white poets [who] shared deep political roots” (Honey, 441). Honey recognizes the efforts of poets and writers who are challenging the cannon and reclaiming modernists studies by “the undermining of the elitist critical scaffolding on which the modernist cannon has [rested],” poets and writers like Gloria Hull, Shari Benstock, and Lisa Rado (Honey, 441). She refers back to a group of conservative southerners who aimed to define modernism as “a model that privileged close reading of texts divorced from their historical or biological framework,” but this, as a result, enabled the modernist canon to be diversified through this critical lens (Honey, 442). In the middle of her response, Honey says that “reconstituting the modernist poetic cannon within its historical framework has revealed the central role of women, gay writers, and African Americans in the free verse…” thus, by using diction, “the ordinary,” place, identity, and the vernacular in its time is modern (Honey, 442). It is what I understand to be modernism. As for the Harlem Renaissance, Honey draws attention to a modernism that “stems [from] the use of the vernacular, emphasis on folk culture, and [the] incorporation of spirituals, jazz and blues,” but warns that if we define African American modernism too narrowly, other forms of writing by HR poets become ignored (Honey, 443). Minimizing or pushing away aspects of New Negro writing continues the danger of black writers writing about essentialism (that’s just the way things are!), which they have every right to no longer have to do (443).

A question I would add to the questionnaire is what are the advantages and disadvantages to bridging modernists studies with the Harlem Renaissance? Do they belong together or should they be deemed separate? (I wonder if some writers believe that they should stay separate because the modernists cannon, or the way Honey described it with the “five or six white men,” was built without any regard to African American writers. Therefore, the Harlem Renaissance can be deemed as the blossoming of African American creativity and a shift of intellect in spite (or in no regard) of the white world these HR writers live in.)


  •   Charlotte Hayden
    November 17th, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Your question relates to Kathleen Pfeiffer’s article in this issue, which I read. She argues that the Harlem Renaissance and modernism should not be conflated, since their “concerns,” she writes, and “goals” were different, but that they did assist each other and share a symbiotic relationship. She argues that considering them in tandem helps us understand their separate trajectories.

  • While I did not read this same piece for my blog post, I find Kathleen Pfeiffer’s opinion on previously established poetic canon would suggest they are separate. However, I believe it is possible that because of their different concerns and goals, there may be a larger conversation between the existentialist modernist and the reconstituted Harlem Renaissance verse. One example is our reading of Langston Hughes last week, in which we discovered how the symbolism of night and night life has changed from previously established symbolism of night. In the realm of Harlem Renaissance poetry and modernism, I believe there is a divergence rather than a connection.

  •   Professor Seiler
    November 21st, 2017 at 3:07 am

    Chelsea-Mia: wow, Honey’s insights into the importance of vernacular, folk culture, spirituals, jazz, and blues strikes me as dove-tailing well with your anthology idea. Do you want to seek out more of her work to help you frame your thinking about voice/performance? Nice job!

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