(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

In the early 1970’s, when many African Americans adopted such aspects of traditional African culture as wardrobe and hairstyle, Jay Wright chose to explore the complex mythologies of the West African Dogon and Bambara peoples. Early poems in The Homecoming Singer are often biographical, but later poetry, drawing upon Wright’s study of anthropological works, approaches these African cosmologies with the gravity that English-language poets previously have accorded to biblical and ancient classical sources. A full appreciation of The Double Invention of Komo depends upon the reader’s willingness to investigate these sources, but many of Wright’s shorter poems in Explications/Interpretations and other books are accessible to more casual attention. In every case, Wright views poetry as a personal means of learning about spiritual and communal realities. “My speech is a plumb line/ to the echo of the earth” he writes in “Inscrutability.”

Raised in New Mexico and Southern California, Wright was directly influenced by African American, Hispanic, and Native American culture and his literary search for identity avoids the binary black-white focus of much African American literature. In his notes to The Double Invention of Komo, Wright asserts that “history and poetry have the same creative ground” and are tools for individual discovery that “permit a man to know himself.” As a result, Wright’s poetry is...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Barrax, Gerald. “The Early Poetry of Jay Wright.” Callaloo 6 (Fall, 1983): 85-101.

Kutzinski, Vera M. Against the American Grain: Myth and History in William Carlos Williams, Jay Wright, and Nicolas Guillén. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

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