(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Michael S. Harper is a poet with a strong individual style. His poetry is notable for the variable rhythm of its lines. Harper’s poems echo a variety of human speech patterns and rhythms. This characteristic distinguishes his rhythm from the more traditionally metric patterns of many poets. Harper’s looser rhythms work along with such techniques as repetition, internal rhyme, and enjambment (lines flowing together without pause at the end) to modulate sound in the poem. Sound is important in Harper’s poems; they are most effective when read aloud.

The content of Harper’s poetry reflects a concern with unification. Harper’s poetic speakers explore connections. For Harper, the poem evidences the connections between the poet’s individual utterances and universal concerns that transcend time and place. A major theme through all of Harper’s books is that of connections among racial and ethnic groups. Other major themes include the importance of an awareness of history, the relationship between the individual and the group, and the connections between one geographic location and another.

Harper’s development of these major themes begins in Dear John, Dear Coltrane. The poems in this book pay homage to the greats of jazz and the blues. The musicians also represent individual and collective human achievement, achievement attained and achievement still possible.

The exploration of the individual’s connection to...

(The entire section is 450 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Brown, Joseph A. “Their Long Scars Touch Ours: A Reflection on the Poetry of Michael Harper.” Callaloo 9, no. 1 (Winter, 1986): 209-220.

Harper, Michael S. “It Is the Man/Woman Outside Who Judges: The Minority Writer’s Perspective on Literature.” TriQuarterly 65 (Winter, 1986): 57-65.

Lloyd, David. “Interview with Michael S. Harper.” TriQuarterly 65 (Winter, 1986): 119-128.