Ishmael Reed Poetry: American Poets Analysis - Essay

Ishmael Reed Poetry: American Poets Analysis

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Ishmael Reed’s poetry has been as controversial as his fictional writing. It is stylistically innovative, sometimes to the bewilderment of readers. Less well known than his novels, his poetry strives to present thumbnail sketches of the history of African Americans in the United States. His most frequently anthologized poem, “I Am a Cowboy in the Boat of Ra,” tracks African Americans throughout history much as Langston Hughes does in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”


In Conjure, a number of poems center on Birmingham, Greensboro, and other locales where African Americans have suffered indignities that compelled them to take action and engage in protest. This collection also includes Reed’s “Neo-HooDoo Manifesto,” “The Neo-HooDoo Aesthetic,” “Catechism of d Neoamerican HooDoo Church,” “HooDoo Poem in Transient,” and “For Cardinal Spellman Who Hated Voo Doo.” In creating Neo-HooDooism, Reed drew on voodoo and other African traditions to create a black aesthetic that did not derive from the white culture and was multicultural. Reed did not always write this term in the same way, sometimes using “Hoodoo,” “hoodoo,” and other variations. In many of the poems in Conjure, Reed eschews conventional punctuation and uses abbreviations such as “d” for “the,” “abt” for “about,” “shd” for “should,” and “yr” for “your.”

“Catechism of d Neoamerican HooDoo Church” is a particularly strident poem in which Reed, having been invited to take a teaching job, protests being denied the opportunity to teach because he “. . . refused to/ deform d works of ellison & wright—his...

(The entire section is 693 words.)