Claude McKay's Early Poetry (1911-1922): A Digital Collection

Early Uncollected Poetry (1911-1922)

These are early poems by Claude McKay not included in his published collections in Jamaica, England, or the U.S.

McKay published a number of poems in Jamaican newspapers in 1911 and 1912, some of which made it into Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads. A few that he excluded from those two Jamaican collections are noteworthy, especially "Christmas in De Air" and "Passive Resistance." While these poems are written in dialect, they are thematically quite similar to McKay's American and British poems written a decade later -- there are strong suggestions of moral outrage at the exploitation of working people in colonial Jamaica.  

Several of the later poems included in this Path were published in Leftist magazines like Workers Dreadnought and The Liberator; some were published in Pearson's and The Messenger. Many of the poems published in Workers Dreadnought were published under the pseudonym "Hugh Hope." While some critics have dismissed these communist-themed poems (Cooper describes them as "proleteriat doggerel" [Cooper 117]), there is in fact a surprising degree of overlap between the Harlem Shadows poems and the poems here. 

Use the Visualization/Tags tool on the upper left to visualize relationships between the poems included in this collection and the poems McKay chose to include in his book-length collections. 

Acknowledgments and Method

My thanks to Chris Forster for substantial help in tracking down original versions of some of these poems (especially The Messenger). My thanks also to the library at Temple University for allowing me to access and scan a limited number of pages from Workers Dreadnought on Microfilm. I also accessed the two Jamaican newspapers where McKay published a number of poems, The Daily Gleaner and Jamaica Times, at the Library of Congress in the summer of 2017.

All of these poems can also be found in William J. Maxwell's Complete Poems. However, the versions of the poems presented here are derived from the original periodicals where they were published with the exception of one poem -- "Passive Resistance" does not appear to have been published in either The Daily Gleaner or Jamaica Times, and I have not been able to trace its original publication. For that one poem, my source is Maxwell's Complete Poems. See more about the mysterious publication history of "Passive Resistance" in my Editor's Note.

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