(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The last poem from Harper’s collection Healing Song for the Inner Ear, “Peace on Earth” concludes a triad in which Harper moves beyond his previous addresses to and descriptions of jazz giants to enter the mind and soul of John Coltrane. Using a structure of separate image clusters produced by groupings of two and three lines, Harper not only recapitulates the highlights of Coltrane’s life and work but also maintains a correspondence between the music and his own poetry, finding parallels between Coltrane’s compositions and many of his own efforts.

Like the melodic motifs of a jazz composition, the twin themes of the sublime, transformative force of artistic inspiration fused with the idea of an artist’s responsibility to the cultural legacy of his community are interwoven throughout the poem. The poem begins with an image of spiritual transcendence, as the speaker declares that moments of inspiration are closely connected to an attitude of religious reverence. “Tunes come to me at morning/ prayer,” he says, extending the thought to include the nature of an individual’s obligation to human decency by recalling how he “prayed at the shrine/ for the war dead broken/ at Nagasaki.” This reference carries the poem beyond a specific local culture to an international linkage of human beings. The immediacy of his personal response, “the tears on the lip of my soprano/ glistened in the sun,” establishes a close identification...

(The entire section is 547 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Brown, Joseph A. “Their Long Scars Touch Ours: A Reflection on the Poetry of Michael Harper.” Callaloo, no. 26 (Winter, 1986): 209-220.

Cooke, Michael G. Afro-American Literature in the Twentieth Century: The Achievement of Intimacy. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984.

Harper, Michael S. “The Map and the Territory: An Interview with Michael S. Harper.” Interview by Michael Antonucci. African American Review 34, no. 3 (Autumn, 2000): 501-508.

Henderson, Stephen, ed. Understanding the New Black Poetry. New York: William Morrow, 1973.

Lerner, Ben. To Cut Is to Heal. Providence, R.I.: Paradigm Press, 2000.

Mills, Ralph J. Cry of the Human: Essays on Contemporary American Poetry. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1974.

Moyers, Bill. “Michael S. Harper.” In The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets, edited by James Haba. New York: Doubleday, 1995.

O’Brien, John, ed. “Michael Harper.” In Interviews with Black Writers. New York: Liveright, 1973.

Rowell, Charles H., ed. “Michael S. Harper, American Poet: A Special Section.” Callaloo 13, no. 4 (Autumn, 1990): 748-829.

Stepto, Robert B. “After Modernism, After Hibernation: Michael Harper, Robert Hayden, and Jay Wright.” In Chant of Saints: A Gathering of Afro-American Literature, Art, and Scholarship, edited by Michael S. Harper and Robert B. Stepto. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979.