Robert Stepto: On "Elegies for Paradise Valley"

The "Elegies for Paradise Valley" are presently eight in number, and while each poem may be said to be "set" in Paradise Valley--Hayden's name for his boyhood neighborhood in Detroit--the "Elegies" do not limn a place as much as they illuminate the ties between kinfolk who are bound as well to place. In this way, Hayden's "Paradise Valley" is a historical field--a culture's magic circle--much like the one established in Harper's "Photographs/ Negatives." And, just as Harper (like Ellison, in some measure) deliberately orchestrates his images so that both birth and burial are contextual properties of photograph and negative, darkroom and graveyard, human image and apple tree, the antipodes of Hayden's field are similarly conjoined and disparate because "Paradise Valley" is also a birthing and burial zone, a vision of the Garden as well as of the Pit of the Fall.

Indeed, it is with images of the Pit that the series of Elegies begins, forcing us to wonder if the series' narrative vector will chart upward and, if so, in what form the incremental stops will appear. The first poem is short and taut, a window on a wasteland infested with race rituals including those cultural carcinogens which, as Ellison's Invisible Man observed, promote certain phases of blindness:


Title Robert Stepto: On "Elegies for Paradise Valley" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Robert Stepto, Michael S. Harper Criticism Target Robert Hayden
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 14 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication After Modernism, After Hibernation: Michael Harper, Robert Hayden, and Jay Wright
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