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The music of urban jazz informs Michael Harper's poetry. He tells how his musical heritage and his background influence the meaning and structure of his work.

Selected Bibliography

  • Debridement. Garden City: Doubleday, 1973.

  • Healing Songs for the Inner Ear. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1985.

  • Honorable Amendments. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

  • Images of Kin: New and Selected Poems. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977.

  • Nightmare Begins Responsibility. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975.

  • Rhode Island. Roslindale, MA: Pym-Randall Press, 1981.

  • Song: I Want a Witness. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1972.

Discussion Questions

1. How does Harper treat the subject of death in the poems he chooses to read?

2. Harper struggles with how the poet can make the transition from music to literature. Can it be done successfully? How are music and poetry tied together?

3. What were the sources of inspiration for the poems he reads? Why is he uncomfortable with being compared to poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes?


Michael S. Harper, the poet laureate of Rhode Island, is one of the country's most prolific writers. Author of eight books of poetry, he began his distinguished career with Dear John, Dear Coltrane (1977). His other books include History Is Your Own Heartbeat (1971), which won the Black Academy of Arts and Letters Award for poetry, Nightmare Begins Responsibility (1975), Images of Kin: New and Selected Poems (1977), which won the 1978 Melville Cane Award from the Poetry Society of America, and Healing Songs for the Inner Ear: Poems (1984). Harper has also made a significant contribution as the editor of Chant of Saints: A Gathering of Afro-American Literature of Art and Scholarship, which he edited with Robert B. Stepto, and Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans Since 1945, edited with Anthony Walton. Nominated twice for the National Book Award, he has been honored by the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1995. He won the 1996 George Kent Poetry Award for Honorable Amendments, and in 1997 he was awarded the Claiborne Pell Award for Excellence in Arts. He is University Professor of English at Brown University, where he directs the writing program.


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