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Left of PoetryDepression America and the Formation of Modern Poetics$
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Sarah Ehlers

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781469651286

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469651286.001.0001

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Photography and the Development of Radical Poetics

Photography and the Development of Radical Poetics

Langston Hughes in Haiti, Mexico, Alabama

(p.27) Chapter One Photography and the Development of Radical Poetics
Left of Poetry

Sarah Ehlers

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter examines Langston Hughes’s overlooked archive of photographs and scrapbooks from his 1931 trip to Haiti, arguing that Hughes’s photographic encounter with Haiti is part of the construction of a transnational vision that starts in the Caribbean and moves through the U.S. South and Mexico. Photography becomes fundamental to Hughes’s attempts to map the connectedness of persons and locales in a capitalist world system and to imagine the formation of political communities. The chapter begins by considering how Hughes’s experience of taking photographs, along with organizing them in albums and scrapbooks, generated questions about the politics of representation in his subsequent political poems. The chapter then extends these considerations to Hughes’s interwar radical verse, showing how Hughes’s encounters with visual objects continue to influence his poetry during the 1930s. The chapter closes by demonstrating how Hughes’s contemplation of the relationship between photography and writing opens up new readings of James Agee and Walker Evans’s foundational documentary text, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941). Hughes’s engagements with photography place him in a developing documentary modernist tradition that pushes beyond New Deal initiatives and employs documentary in the shaping of an international public sphere.

Keywords:   Langston Hughes, political poetry, photography, documentary, Haiti, James Agee

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