James A. Emanuel’s earlier poetry was largely influenced by English poets such as John Keats and William Shakespeare, but his relationship with Hughes and his close study of Hughes’s work also influenced him. Some of Emanuel’s poems contain vernacular, and many of them experiment with genres of music, including blues and jazz. Critics say his poems are precise and that he is adept at creating subtle phrases. Unlike the poems of many of the African American poets writing during the 1960’s, Emanuel’s poems rarely contain alternate spellings or innovative forms. Instead, his poems usually have rhymed quatrains and regular lines and stanzas. They are about youth, black experiences, war, manhood, and love.
The Treehouse, and Other Poems
Most of the poems in The Treehouse, and Other Poems were previously published in anthologies and periodicals, such as Phylon, The New York Times, and Negro Digest. The poems are traditional, but some reflect blues and jazz influence. Emanuel’s serious poems are often about African Americans who were killed because of racism. Emmett Till, the fourteen-year-old boy who was tortured, murdered, and thrown into the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi in 1955 for whistling at a white woman, is coupled with the fairy river boy who swims forever. “Where Will Their Names Go Down?” remembers the unnamed who were subjected to similar hate crimes. “Fisherman” was inspired by time Emanual spent with his son. Other poems are about war, heroes, and the poetic process. Scholars suggest that The Treehouse, and Other Poems received little critical attention because the poems do not adhere to the militant, direct style of some of the African American poetry published during that time.
Dedicated to Emanuel’s City College of New York students, Panther Man, angry in tone, argues against racism in the United States. In the preface, Emanuel calls the volume “a reflection of personal, racially meaningful...
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