McKay, C: Complete Poems
Containing more than three hundred poems, including nearly a hundred published here for the first time, this landmark collection showcases the range and dynamism of Claude McKay (1889-1948), the Jamaican-born poet whose life and poetry were marked by restless travel and steadfast social protest. His first poems, composed in rural Jamaican dialect, won him fame as the "Jamaican Bobby Burns" and launched his lifelong commitment to representing everyday black culture from the bottom up. Reinvigorating the standard English sonnet after migrating to New York, McKay helped to spark the Harlem Renaissance with modern classics such as "If We Must Die." Coming under scrutiny for his Bolshevist views, McKay left America in 1922 and spent twelve years roaming from Moscow to Tangier via Berlin, Paris, and Barcelona. These shifts in location led to shifts in form, subject, and language, and when McKay returned to Harlem in 1934, having denounced Stalin's Soviet Union, his pristine "Violent sonnets" gave way to confessional lyrics strongly informed by his newfound Catholicism. McKay eludes easy definition, which is why this complete anthology, vividly introduced and carefully annotated by William J. Maxwell, is at once necessary and rewarding. Here the reader can trace the complex, transnational evolution of a major voice in twentieth-century poetry.