Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What is unusual about Robert Hayden’s understanding of, and valuation of, the past?

How did Hayden’s changing religious beliefs affect his poetry?

“Polyphony” is a musical term applied to a technique much used by Hayden. Explain its applicability.

The feeling in lyric poems is often a concomitant of a single voice. Is Hayden’s open-mindedness and willingness to assume different viewpoints a poetic asset or liability?

How does Hayden’s attitude toward the employment of black English in poetry differ from Nikki Giovanni’s?

Hayden is one of many American writers appreciated abroad while suffering long neglect at home before being accepted. What are the most likely reasons for this situation in his case?

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

ph_0111207628-Hayden.jpg Robert Hayden Published by Salem Press, Inc.

In addition to writing poetry, Robert Hayden edited two volumes of African American literature: Kaleidoscope: Poems by American Negro Poets (1967) and Afro-American Literature: An Introduction (1971) with David J. Burrows and Frederick R. Lapides.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Robert Hayden was the first African American to be appointed consultant in poetry (poet laureate) to the Library of Congress, serving 1976-1978. His awards and honors include Hopwood Awards for Poetry at the University of Michigan (1942, 1944), a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship (1947), a Ford Foundation Fellowship (1954-1955), the World Festival of Negro Arts grand prize (1966), the Russell Loines Award (1970), an Academy of American Poets Fellowship (1975), and a Michigan Arts Foundation Award (1977). Words in the Mourning Time and American Journal were both nominated for the National Book Award in poetry. His strength as a poet lay in his convincingly ambivalent vision of the world, the consistent philosophical basis of that outlook, and the quietly effective language with which he rendered it.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Conniff, Brian. “Robert Hayden and the Rise of the African American Poetic Sequence.” African American Review 33, no. 3 (Fall, 1999): 487-506. A discussion of Hayden’s development in the poem “Middle Passage” of an experimental poetics that could examine racism by telling an episode of its history in a number of contending voices.

Davis, Arthur P. “Robert Hayden.” In From the Dark Tower: Afro-American Writers, 1900 to 1960. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1982. Emphasizes Hayden’s craftsmanship. Davis illustrates the variety of verse forms and techniques used in the later poems and discusses in detail a few poems. Although some of Hayden’s best poems deal with racial subject matter, his technical mastery raises them above the level of protest.

Davis, Charles T. “Robert Hayden’s Use of History.” In Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Donald B. Gibson. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1973. This clear, well-illustrated study examines Hayden’s lifelong preoccupation with African American history. Davis traces in individual poems the changing emphasis from physical to spiritual liberation, in subjects ranging from Nat Turner to Malcolm X.

Fetrow, Fred M. “Portraits and Personae: Characterization in the Poetry of Robert Hayden.” In Black...

(The entire section is 520 words.)