Cold War Jazz and the Political Aesthetics of Langston Hughes’s Long Poems
This chapter explains the political aesthetics of Langston Hughes’s adaptation of bebop and post-bop jazz in his long poems, particularly his most experimental blend of jazz and poetry, Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz (1961). Ask Your Mama dramatizes the interaction of African diasporic cultures in the Americas and in Africa, with its evocation of Afro-Caribbean as well as African American music and its movement between different sites of black revolutionary struggle. In this context, jazz plays an explicitly political role in expressing the revolutionary desire for black liberation in the U.S., Africa, and the Caribbean.Ask Your Mama is also Hughes’s most experimental blend of jazz and poetry. Through its formal and specifically sonic patterns of defamiliarization, Ask Your Mama unsettles conceptualizations of “culture”—and cultural production—that assume hierarchical oppositions of white and black, European and African, American and African American, modernist and popular, and written and vernacular.
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