Critical judgments about Madhubuti’s poetry vary. Those who praise him find value in “his distinct voice as a poet of the Black revolution,” in his “message of good news” to African Americans, and in the lack of an “ironic vision” that keeps his poems “straightforward” and “unpretentious.” Jascha Kessler speaks on the other side for those who judge Madhubuti’s writings harshly:I’ve not seen poetry in Don L. Lee. Anger, bombast, raw hatred, strident, aggrieved, perhaps charismatically crude religious and political canting, propaganda and racist nonsense, yes; and utterly unoriginal in form and style; humorless; cruel laughter bordering on the insane. . . . [I]n Lee all is converted to rant.
Helen Vendler may be right when she says that in Madhubuti’s work “the sardonic and savage turn-of-phrase long present in black speech as a survival tactic finds its best poet.” Jerry B. McAninch’s observation seems concurrently true: “There is no gray in Lee’s world, only black and white, and only black is beautiful.” Clearly, Madhubuti’s ambivalent prophecy that “blackpoems/ will change” finds corroboration in American social and literary history.
After letting it eat at his soul for over forty years, Madhubuti wrote YellowBlack in 2005 as a testimony to his transformation from Don L. Lee to Haki R. Madhubuti. Motivated by his father’s death, in the summer of 2003 Madhubuti began in earnest to write...
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