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Beatification: Lynd Ward, Rap

© Lynd Ward, courtesy of The Library of America

Lynd Ward, ed. Art Spiegelman (The Library of America) $70

The Library of America has issued the most beautiful reproduction of Lynd Ward’s early woodcut novels—from Gods’ Man to Vertigoever. Not only more physically impressive than Dover’s editions, the only ones that can be readily found today, the woodcut reproductions are also of higher quality and resolution, with special care paid to their layout. All six woodcut novels were written and published while Ward was in his 20s, and though his stories sometimes peak in melodrama—something mitigated, to some degree, by its wordless narrative pace—Ward proves himself to be a structural storyteller of increasing genius.

 

© Lynd Ward, courtesy of The Library of America

Spiegelman’s introduction sketches Ward’s biography: the son of a progressive Methodist minister, it was luck that found the newly married, post-collegiate Ward in Germany rather than Paris, where he learned woodcut technique from the German Expressionist, whose works are probably best anthologized in Dover’s larger German Expressionist Woodcuts. Like his father, young Ward was very conscious of contemporary social justice issues and the artist’s role in addressing them. His use of—in his own words—the most primitive technique of image making exemplifies his rejection of the artist as bourgeois spectator.

The first volume of the two-volume set also contains four essays by Ward, written significantly after the publication of these six novels. These reveal an introspective creator keen to contextualize his own work. They also suggest his work’s increasing relevance to the present, as in his essay “On ‘Wild Pilgrimage’”:

The early thirties were a time when it seemed problematical whether the great, complicated American economic machine, which has but recently made such confident promises about the future, could ever be cranked up again. But to many thoughtful persons the real question was whether getting things going again was all that worthwhile…

© Lynd Ward, courtesy of The Library of America

The Anthology of Rap, ed. Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois (Yale U P) $35

With its foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.—who remembers his father’s signifying—and afterwords by Chuck D and Common, The Anthology begins and ends with heavy hitters from the academic and rap communities, and the rap poetry those icons bookend is both a crash course in the diversity of rap lyrics from Afrika Bambaataa onward and a compelling case that the lyrics belong in the canon of contemporary poetry. The rap-as-poetry argument is about as stale as the comics-as-literature argument; once the chairman of the NEA has written about the prosody of rap, the genre ought to be a shoo-in. Still, editors Bradley and DuBois do well to treat their topic with the respect it deserves in this context, setting the stage for the appearance of rap lyrics in print. While rap has undoubtedly proved its own value to the world at large, and while, as I’ve argued before, the most relevant critics of the genre disseminate their criticism through the medium itself, The Anthology will go a long way toward legitimizing rap as literature. As Common writes in his afterword, “Strip all the performance away from rap and what do you have? A new perspective. Reading rap lyrics lets you see familiar things in new ways.” That’s as succinct a description of The Anthology of Rap as I could write. The Anthology of Rap is a new perspective on the world’s most widespread, most malleable, most popular form of poetry, and that’s worth celebrating.

DS

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