There are many viewpoints today, at least when it comes to the development of the African-American poetry in general, which raise the question whether there is such a notion as “black poetry” or is it simply poetry written by black people. The very attempt to render black poetry as simply poetry written by black people is not really an act of democratic observation on an equal scale, but it has to do with the long and ongoing process of discrimination against black people, which is still rooted in the white cultures of the modern world.
When it comes to black poetry, we have to admit that the African roots have had a strong impact not just with the distinct tone and rhythm that has been cherished as part of the oral tradition which predates America and stretches back to Africa, but also the music and the speech which are clearly the driving force of the black poetry as we can see in the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Joshua McCarter Simpson, and Claude McKay. Their poetry abounds in dialectal subtleties and rhythmical elements that reveal a tonal language, which sounds like singing rather than talking.
Dunbar for instance, being among the first African-American poets who gained national critical acclaim, was eager to promote the struggle for equality of the blacks in all of his works in such a way that he addressed the difficulties that members of his race were facing, at the period following the American Civil War, known as the post-slavery era. He used an everyday rural, black dialect in his poems, depicting the hard times his kinsmen were going through, with a solemn rhythm of pride and tribulation, as only black gospels can have. In his poem We Wear the Mask, he mixes the modern poetic style with the traditional tones of black America, saying:
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
His language is very simple, although his irony clearly visible when he says...