What are some of Langston Hughes' poetic characteristics?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would say that one of the most distinctive qualities of Hughes' poetry is how he articulated the condition of "the other."  Hughes was able to bring out the context of what it means to be a person of color in a social setting that had a challenging time (and still does, to an extent) addressing the issue of race and ethnicity.  As part of the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes was able to make the argument that American progress and optimism, so present during the 1920s, had to be tempered with the understanding that only a part of American Society was being addressed.  Hughes and other writers like him were able to talk about the "insider" vs. "outsider" dynamic with a disarming clarity and lucidity to their work.  In assessing the lasting impact of Hughes' work, one could make the argument that he was the logical extension of poets such as Whitman and Emerson, who strove to give the nation voice as it expanded and integrated multiple notions of the good into its frame of reference.  It is in this where Hughes' work is distinctive, in that it spoke of a condition of marginalization and social silence that had not been addressed in such a strong manner up to that point.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poetry of Langston Hughes tends to be almost deceptively simple in style.  If you look at some of his best-known poems—"Harlem, "Jukebox Love Song," "April Rain Song," or "Dreams"—you see that he does not use words that are difficult to understand.  His poetry is incredibly accessible in this way: he isn't writing for elites, for those who expect adherence to traditional notions of what poetry "ought" to be. 

Hughes creates not only beauty but also intense messages with his poems.  He ignores classical forms, instead using jazz and that musical genre's rhythms as inspiration for his poems.  His poems often focus on the experiences of black people, drawing attention and importance to lives and experiences of a group that was (and still is) marginalized by white America.  Therefore, his poems are also, often, vehicles of protest, written to be understood by anyone.