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Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Gwendolyn Bennett – Maryland Humanities

Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Gwendolyn Bennett – Maryland Humanities

Celebrating Poetry Month

Two Poets and Their Diaries: Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Gwendolyn Bennett

By Angela R. Hooks, Ph.D.

Flipping via my diary I observed I had composed a poem. The poem had been rewritten 3 times with phrases and features deleted and stanzas revised. To create the poem, I adopted an train in Richard Hugo’s e-book Triggering Cities that required selecting 5 nouns, verbs, and adjectives for an inventory. The poem needed to embrace 4 beats to a line, six-line stanzas, three stanzas, two inner and one exterior slant rhymes per stanza, two finish stops per stanza, and clear grammatical sentences that make sense. The poem have to be meaningless. In response to my diary, my poem took one week to finish and wanted further wordsmithing and fewer beats. As a diary-keeper of greater than three many years, writing in my diary has augmented from area for reflection into an area to hone my craft. For a lot of writers and poets, the diary manifests by means of a springboard to supply poems from experiences, observations, and feelings. Rereading the poem and the marginalia notes concerning the poem jogged my memory of the diary pages of two American poets: Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875-1935) and Gwendolyn B. Bennett (1902-1981) and the legacy they left for different poets, writers and diary-keepers.

I’ve learn, studied, and examined Give of Every Day; The Diary of Alice Dunbar-Nelson, revealed diaries, and the unpublished diaries of Bennett, housed at Schomburg Middle for Analysis in Black Tradition, Manuscripts, Archives and Uncommon Ebook Division. I found regardless of the busy lives they led as educated, middle-class professionals entrenched in social activism, together with schooling, for the black race, each their diaries served as a author’s workshop to hone their expertise, create poems, and hold monitor of submissions.

The Poets

Gwendolyn Bennett

Gwendolyn Bennett was a Renaissance lady, who contributed to the humanities as a painter, graphic artist, artwork professor at Howard College in Washington, DC, and within the literary world as poet, short-story author, and editor and columnist of “Ebony Flute.” As a visible and literary artist, Bennett was a prolific poet generally known as the seed of the Harlem Renaissance. Bennett left a legacy of twenty-two poems that appeared in journals of the interval: Disaster, Alternative, Palms, and Gypsy and the Messenger. Moreover, different poems have been collected in William Stanley Braithwaite’s Anthology of Journal Verse for 1927 and Yearbook of American Poetry (1927), Countee Cullen’s Caroling Nightfall (1927), and James Weldon Johnson’s The Ebook of American Negro Poetry (1931). She was and stays recognized for the poems “To Usward,” “Track,” “Strains Written on the Grave of Alexandre Dumas,” “Sonnet 1,” and “Sonnet 2.”

Alice Dunbar-Nelson

Alice Dunbar-Nelson was a prolific author constantly producing and publishing diversified types of literature from 1895 to1931. She revealed her first e-book brief tales and poems Violets and Different Tales at age nineteen. She wrote articles for Day by day Crusader, the Journal of the Lodge, and black magazines like Age, Boston Lady’s Period and Boston Month-to-month Assessment and the Coloured American. In 1899 she revealed one other guide of tales, The Goodness of St. Rocque and Different Tales. Her poems appeared in Disaster, Ebony and Topaz, Alternative, Negro Poets and their Poems, Caroling Nightfall, The Dunbar Speaker, and Entertainer, Harlem: A Discussion board of Negro Life and the Guide of American Negro Poetry. She was and stays recognized for the poems “I Sit and Sew,” “Sonnet” and “April is on the Approach.”

The Diary as a Author’s Workshop

Dunbar-Nelson’s diary served as a author’s workshop: a spot that talks about writing, exhibits the best way to discover time writing and find out how to use the diary as a springboard of concepts.  Her diary is an area for the female voice that illuminates the tales of girls. Dunbar-Nelson lived experiences have been reworked from her diary into her artistic work like Gwendolyn Bennett. Dunbar-Nelson wrote concerning the writing, its difficulties and her disappointments. For instance, diary illustrates that she wrote within the kitchen by the window consuming a cup of tea; upstairs within the mattress, plugging away at two o’clock within the morning, and in her workplace.  On March 18, 1928, the diary had lapsed since February 9. Dunbar-Nelson first complained concerning the diary as “a weight on my coronary heart to get it updated. I carried it round to high school and to the workplace. And like some inhibition, I couldn’t deliver myself to write down. And tonight, once I should be in mattress, the spirit moved me to straighten it out.” She was disciplined, writing every day.

Within the diary, she recorded when she had written both a sonnet, poem, story or a novel. She additionally included publishing retailers the place she submitted her work. The poet adopted up within the diary recording whether or not the piece had been accepted for publication or rejected. Typically disclosing the prize cash, if relevant. On Saturday, August 27, 1921 “completed a sonnet on Mme. Curie and despatched to the [Philadelphia] Public Ledge for contest about “favourite lady of the ages” (62). Sunday, September 11, she penned that sonnet appeared in “to-day’s Ledger. Meaning I’ve an opportunity on the prize. In fact, it appears better of all of the revealed ones, to me…” (72). Whereas residence writing in her diary, she famous that her sonnet was not a prize winner. She vented her dissatisfied and discouragement: she quoted Oscar Micheaux, a black filmmaker (1884-1951) “if you wish to get something throughout, it have to be pure “bunk” absolute “bunk” which public will swallow, “hook, bait, sinker, line AND rod,” after which come up greedy for extra” (September 18, 1921). At forty-six years-old the rejection left her discouraged “forty-six years previous and nowhere but” (77).

In her diary, she dutiful recorded her honorable point out of the poem “April is on the Method,” which she revealed beneath the identify “Karen Ellison” for the Alternative Contest. Her diary additionally confesses she reused “April is on the Approach” for her month-to-month column “As in A Wanting Glass.”  She penned “On the financial institution Reilly fairly excited over “April is on the Means” which I used for “As in A Wanting Glass” as I felt too bum to do any column this week. Leslie fairly excited over it too.” (218).

In April of 1930, she turned her feelings into writing sonnets. She wrote:

You didn’t have to creep into my coronary heart
The best way you probably did. You can have smiled
And understanding what you probably did, have stored aside
From all my internal soul. However you beguiled
Intentionally. Then flung my poor love by,
A priceless orange now. With no signal
Of pity on the wreck you made. Smashed
The golden dream I’d reared. Then unabashed
Impaled the episode upon silly epigram,
Blowing my soul thor’ smoke wreaths as you sneered a “Rattling!”

She took her personal emotions and usurped of the connection and reworked her harm into poetry. Her writing was not about confessing her secrets and techniques, however a strategy to permit her artwork to be free to go wherever it wanted to go, and Marylin Schneider claims that “often our ache comes out first” (ix). Inside the diary, Dunbar-Nelson emerged as a author who wrote deeply as a result of her diary was protected till it was not protected. She was capable of compose a poem about what she had skilled or imagined.

Despite the fact that Gwendolyn Bennett maintained three diaries, 1925, 1936 and 1958, her scrap paper and unfastened pages resemble a diary. Her writings on scraps of paper illustrate her artistic course of igniting her imaginative and prescient of writing poems. The ideas on the scraps of paper occurred at that very second one thing occurred and no different writing paper existed at that second. When one thing occurs that causes the diarist to ponder the state of affairs she should seize that second on paper regardless of the dimensions or type.

Gwendolyn Bennett’s Scrap Paper as Diary. Schomburg Middle for Analysis in Black Tradition, The New York Public Library.

Not solely did Bennett place her ache on the web page, she used poetic methods similar to rhyme, metaphors and features to create a poem. Her writing on unfastened pages and placing them in a folder as an alternative of the trash may also point out Bennett had hopes of reconstructing and publishing her poems.

Bennett stored a diary of handwritten poems written on scrap paper. Some scraps that Bennett penned poetry on have been on the again of Cox, Nostrand and Gunnison letterhead. Cox, Nostrand and Gunnison was a lighting fixture firm in New York, the place Bennett labored. Others have been scribbled on small scraps of torn or folded paper. She understood these poems have been in progress, scribbling the phrases “poetry in progress” throughout the underside of a bit of paper. However, one poem displays her expertise on the cathedral in Paris in 1925 when her muse wouldn’t let her write poetry. These handwritten poems illustrate her emotionally freedom to as soon as once more write poetry that’s “fluid with a respiration physique” (Oliver three). Different strains characterize coronary heart break of affection.

These unfastened pages include greater than twenty drafts of poems, some strains, stanzas and some pages of analysis. Some poems have strains crossed out, phrases inserted, and seem as revised poems.  Bennett’s course of displays Richard Hugo’s ideas for rewriting poems by which the poet ought to “write the complete poem once more” (37). Hugo claims, “If one thing goes mistaken deep within the poem, you might have taken a mistaken flip earlier. The subsequent time by way of the poem chances are you’ll spot the fallacious path you took (37). Bennett’s markings point out she reread her poems and when not on the proper path modified phrases and performed with syntax. Like me, Bennett adopted the directions of a extra seasoned poet. Certainly one of Bennett’s handwritten poem emulates Elizabeth Bishop’s use of stress and unstressed syllables.

Dunbar-Nelson and Bennett have been prolific poets of their time. Though dedicated to the craft, neither bard revealed an entire physique of poems of their lifetime. But the poetry Dunbar-Nelson and Bennett left behind, revealed and unpublished, voices the achievements and the legacy of Black American ladies poets making poetry aside of their tradition.


Dunbar-Nelson, Alice Moore, and Gloria T. Hull. Give Us Every Day; The Diary of Alice Dunbar-Nelson. W.W. Norton & Firm, New York. 1986.

Gwendolyn Bennett Papers, Schomburg Middle for Analysis in Black Tradition, The New York Public Library.

Hugo, Richard. The Triggering City, Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing. New York, London: WW Norton & Firm, 1979.

Oliver, Mary, A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Information to Understanding and Writing Poetry. New York, Harcourt, Inc.,1994.

Angela R. Hooks has defended her dissertation, and anxiously awaits her Might 2018 commencement from St. John’s College to formally be Dr. Hooks.  She teaches composition and literature. Her literary musings have appeared in African Notes, Vol. 40, Underground Writers, Balanced Rock: The North Salem Evaluate of Artwork, Images and Literature, Virginia Woolf Miscellany and Noise Medium.