Carolyn M. Rodgers Critical Essays


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Carolyn M. Rodgers is touted as one of the most prolific poets of the Black Arts movement. Her work often challenges white dominant views of blackness. During an interview conducted by the poet Mari Evans in the 1980’s, Rodgers said, “I began to write quasi seriously during my first year of college. I was frustrated along with the rest of my peers, and it seemed to be a natural, enjoyable, effective outlet.” Frustration seems to be the prevalent tone of Rodgers’s earlier volumes. Much of her work is autobiographical and unconventional. Her poems are sprinkled with abbreviated spellings, lowercase letters, nonstandard expressions, and profanity. Her speakers demand cultural revolution, black empowerment, and self-discovery.

Paper Soul

Rodgers’s first collection of poetry, Paper Soul, explores everyday black language and life. Themes of love, identity, religion, male-female relationships, and cultural revolution permeate the volume. Particularly poignant are the poems that illuminate the dichotomy between generations within the black community during a time when the ideas expressed by those advocating a cultural revolution clashed with the traditional views of older blacks. “A NON POEM ABOUT VIETNAM or Try Black” argues that black men should not fight in the war. The speaker in “Testimony” questions Christianity, particularly God’s power and love. In one of the most anthologized poems from Paper Soul, “Now Ain’t That Love,” the speaker suggests that her identity is shaped by what her lover thinks of her.

Songs of a Blackbird

Rodgers looked more closely at the black woman as poet and artist in Songs of a Blackbird. In “Breakthrough,” she questions some of the tenets of the Black...

(The entire section is 734 words.)