Lip Service to the Master?
Hadara Bar-Nadav closely examines “The Radical Nature of Helene Johnson’s This Waiting for Love and asks us to consider the women poets of the Harlem Renaissance:
Critics tend to focus on Johnson’s more obvious breaks from conventions in which she uses urban vernacular language; however, it is in her pastoral poems that she is most radical, articulating a bold aesthetic vision while paying poetic lip-service to the master. In Johnson’s pastoral poetry, she constructs a revisionist model of poetics that envisions creative support among women; alternatives to the power dynamics of the traditional artist-muse relationship; alliances between women and nature, and women and poetry; and nature as a key subject through which subversive messages can be coded and accessed by others.
Among Johnson’s contributions to literature of the Harlem Renaissance is her use of nature as a means to revise conventional models of creativity. The poem “Magula” begins: “Oh Magula, come! Take my hand and I’ll read you poetry, / Chromatic words, / Seraphic symphonies...” (Johnson 2000, 34). This invitation from the speaker to Magula suggests that the creative interaction between these two women will result in a heavenly, musical language.
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