Fenton Johnson’s “A Dream”

Since I’ve been unable to supply new pieces for the past few days, it has occurred to me that I could point out some other pieces this project has already done that fit into the Black History Month theme. Here’s one that has been found by a number of visitors during their own searches here this month: Fenton Johnson’s “A Dream.”

Johnson is another Afro-American writer who sometimes gets linked with the Harlem Renaissance even though he doesn’t seem to have spent significant time in New York. Instead, Johnson worked in Chicago. He was active and publishing before Locke’s 1925 The New Negro  anthology, yet while James Weldon Johnson’s earlier The Book of American Negro Verse  included a selection of fine poetry from Fenton Johnson, The New Negro only mentions him in passing. As we’ve seen earlier, some of what Locke aimed to do was to bring forward quite young poets and writers, and even if Johnson was only 38 when The New Negro  was issued, it may be that he was considered “the older generation.”

Fenton Johnson. Dressed conservatively here, but he wrote Modernist and socially engaged poetry.

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“A Dream”  is one of several poems I’ve read of Fenton Johnson’s that deal with Afro-American Christian spirituality. I don’t know enough about Johnson’s life to understand his personal connection to that, but his poetry often speaks in the voices of various Afro-American characters, and “A Dream”  may be such a poem. Here’s a link to the text of his poem and its companion poem as published in Poetry Magazine in 1921 as “Two Negro Spirituals.”

If Johnson was the older generation, his poetry is more Modernist in its word-music than some of “The New Negro”  poets, often freer in meter and shorn of rhyme. When I performed his “A Dream”  and wrote about it three years ago I wasn’t sure I had done it justice, but listening back to my performance of it now it doesn’t seem to be hurt much by my limited voice. To hear it, you can use the player gadget below — or it that isn’t below, with this highlighted hyperlink.

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