How Do White American Poets Discuss Race in 1950s America?

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Introduction New York City in 1950s America was a diverse area, with a plethora of nationalities mixed into the ‘melting pot’ of America. Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg were part of this, though they were white, hailing from the renowned Beat generation. Alongside black poets such as Amiri Baraka, they led a revolution with poems such as “The Day Lady Died”, “A Step Away From Them” and “Howl”. “The Day Lady Died”, by Frank O’Hara talks about Billie Holiday, a black jazz artist. Though jazz music was popular in the 1950s, it was known as ‘black’ music, meaning that white people weren’t associated with the music; it was a cultural division between black and white people in America. When looking at the poem, however, it seems as if O’Hara wants to be part of the ‘black’ music and feel a part of it. Unfortunately he can’t because of the racial division in America at the time. What interests me is that this poem doesn’t attack black people; it instead talks about the problems of being white, which according to the norms of the USA at the time should have been the complete opposite. Amiri Baraka, a fellow poet who was a friend of Frank O’Hara at the time, was black. It is intriguing to assess the influence Baraka had on O’Hara’s views. Allen Ginsberg shares the same views as O’Hara but writes in a very different way. I will be focusing on his revolutionary poem, “Howl” and the way in which he discusses race as well as how racial minorities are treated in America. To analyse “Howl” fully, I will bring in details from his poem “America” to support my points. I expect there will be similarities and differences between both poets and I will comment on these, detailing why each poet writes in a certain way. How Race Is Discussed by Frank O’Hara As a white American in a racist society, Frank O’Hara believes black and white people shouldn’t be separated; this segregation
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