This essay uses two poetic works from the 1950s—Langston Hughes’s 1951 sequence Montage of a Dream Deferred and the poetry and poetics of Black Mountain pioneer Charles Olson—to articulate a theory of racially engaged, nonmimetic poetic musicality deriving from the engagement both poets make with the bebop jazz of Charlie Parker and his colleagues. By taking “jazz” less as a specific body of sounds than as a conceptual provocation to rethink the very idea (and ideal) of poetry as a musical phenomenon, Hughes and Olson—both individually and together—help us make new sense of three phenomena: the way poetry relates to musical sounds external to it, the way poetry understands itself as a form of music, and the prospects for racial representation this reevaluation makes possible.

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