Harlem Shadows. By Claude McKay, with an introduction by Max Eastman. Published by Harcourt, Brace, & Company, New York. Price $1.75.
The poems in this book are characterized by wide range of subject and a distinct gift for poetic diction. The writer of them has a poet's soul. They have also the touch which marks them as the work of one of African descent.
Love of the tropics and its life breathes through the lines of many: some refer wistfully to childhood memories, as in contrast to the stern realities of the North, and the city. Old loves, old ties, old scenes have strong hold on the writer; the hard facts of life as it must be lived by a Negro in an Anglo-Saxon civilization press hard on his sensitive soul. His eyes are open to all its artistic possibilities, however, and he voices truthfully what he sees. Nature has given to Mr. McKay the gift of a singer, so that whatever mode or rhythm he adopts, it is satisfying and melodious. No free verse is here, although classic rules are treated freely, and he knows instinctively how to use words in a way that shows both culture and melody.
These poems seem to the writer marred by two faults, however, not of vision or of expression, but of the poet's mentality. Mr. McKay thinks, it appears, in terms both negative and garish. His subjects are of things past, things longed for, things absent, or things tragic. The positive, inspirational note, which we associate with poetry at its best, is conspicuous by its absence, so that one seems to be hearing too much music in the minor key. When he does touch a more positive note, he becomes lurid, not in word but in thought, touching his subject in strong, glaring colors; his work at such times lacks taste. His mind seems to be a dark place lit up by fitful rays of passion, not a clear, bright place where one loves to linger. The book is well named "Harlem Shadows." In Claude McKay another minor poet has spoken.
—E. A. T.