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In Big Muddy River of Stars, her second full-length collection of poems, Alison Pelegrin continues her celebration of the quirks and characters of south Louisiana, tempered now by the devastations of hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. These sassy poems come on like a carnival parade, with boisterous shout-outs to sleepy rivers and Big Shot soda, crawfish and trailer trash and those “git-r-dones” who rebuild homes ravaged by hurricane and high water. Presiding over the book is the spirit of Chinese poet Li Po, Pelegrin’s prodigal mentor and drinking buddy. Sharing his “exultation” and “taste of recklessness,” she wants to write “the Li Po way— / wine and the wide world.” And she does. With lines that laugh and rage and slur in the piquant tongue of her native Louisiana, Pelegrin knows how to play the blues in a bold and irreverent key.
A Narrative Account with Entertaining Passages of the State of Minstrelsy & of America & the True Relation Thereof
A critical look at black identity in American history and popular culture as told from a performative African American perspective.
In The Black Ocean, poet Brian Barker attempts to make sense of some of the darkest chapters in history while peering forward to what lies ahead as the world totters in the wake of human complacence. Unveiled here are ruminations on human torture, the Chernobyl disaster, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and genocide against Native Americans. The ghosts of Lincoln, Poe, and Billie Holiday manifest from pages laden with grim prophecies and catastrophes both real and imagined. These hauntingly intense documentary poems reflect on the past in an attempt to approach it with more clarity and understanding, while offering blistering insight into the state of the world today. Barker touches upon the power of manipulation and class oppression; the depths of fear and the struggle for social justice; and reveals how failure to act—on the parts of both politicians and everyday citizens—can have the most devastating effects of all.
Throughout the volume looms the specter of the black ocean itself, a powerful metaphor for all our collective longings and despair, as we turn to face a menacing and uncertain future.
Lullaby for the Last Night on Earth
When at last we whisper, so long, so lonesome,
and watch our house on the horizon
go down like a gasping zeppelin of bricks,
we’ll turn, holding hands,
and walk the train tracks to the sea . . .
So sing me that song where a mountain falls
in love with an octopus, and one thousand fireflies
ricochet around their heads,
and I’ll dream we’re dancing in the kitchen one last time,
swaying, the window a waystation
of flaming leaves, the dogs shimmying
about our legs,
dragging their golden capes of rain . . .
O my critter, my thistle, gal-o-my-dreams,
lift your voice like an oar into the darkness,
for all the sad birds are falling down—
Nothing in this night is ours.
Yet, these are ultimately poems of survival. Jarman explores the redemptive power of the imagination and the ways in which we transform experience into stories we tell about our lives. His characters vividly express the will to cling to existence and understand it as they pursue the meaning of family, home, identity, and love. Invented memories resurrect a forgotten past, opening doors of possibility and adding a strange richness to everyday life. "Flowers of the flesh,/ Hung on the cliffs to watch and be watched./ Don't let me see reproach, don't let me see it,/ In your eyes. Let me be the only one/ Who knows and tells you."
Cameroon in Black and White
Bill NDIís Bleeding Red: Cameroon in Black and White is another masterpiece from a poet with a deeply political vision. This collection of poems with Cameroon as the particular focal point is a paragon of socio-political and cultural alertness in verse that will get every reader on their toes. Bill NDIís world is fraught with topsy-turvydom. It is a world darkened by experience and a keen sense of the wrongs plaguing his beloved country. He points out, without preaching, where it all went wrong, how it can, or what it will take to, be redeemed. The acerbity of Bill NDIís criticism runs from the very first poem of the collection ëAnthem for Essingangí through ëThe Promiseí to the very last one ëPapa Ngando Yi Mimba for Cameluní. What a clime characterised by a ìclan of mbokos, clan of banditsî! It is just natural that as they perpetrate ìdeath and sadnessî in his beloved fatherland, nothing but ìdisgraceî, ìgreat shameî, and ìrepudiationî awaits them for evermore.
The Poetry of George Elliott Clarke
Blues singer, preacher, cultural critic, exile, Africadian, high modernist, spoken word artist, Canadian poet—these are but some of the voices of George Elliott Clarke. In a selection of Clarke’s best work from his early poetry to his most recent, Blues and Bliss: The Poetry of George Elliott Clarke offers readers an impressive cross-section of those voices. Jon Paul Fiorentino’s introduction focuses on this polyphony, his influences—Derek Walcott, Amiri Baraka, and the canon of literary English from Shakespeare to Yeats—and his “voice throwing,” and shows how the intersections here produce a “troubling” of language. He sketches Clarke’s primary interest in the negotiation of cultural space through adherence to and revision of tradition and on the finding of a vernacular that begins in exile, especially exile in relation to African-Canadian communities.
In the afterword, Clarke, in an interesting re-spin of Fiorentino’s introduction, writes with patented gusto about how his experiences have contributed to multiple sounds and forms in his work. Decrying any grandiose notions of theory, he presents himself as primarily a songwriter.
Blues for Bill was born out of the desire to perpetuate the memory of our dear friend and teacher, Bill Matthews. Bill’s work will last without our help, of course, but what of our memories of Bill himself? This collection of poems ensures that the world will remember his graciousness, intelligence, knowledge, style, good humor, capacity for friendship, immense talent and wit. It’s Bill himself this anthology memorializes, the character and soul of this most unique man. The poems included were written by people who knew Bill in a variety of ways, under myriad circumstances: as friend, both old and new; as mentor and teacher; as colleague; as father. The book’s introduction was penned by Bill’s long-time friend, Russell Banks. Many of the contributors’ names will be familiar, such as Sharon Olds, Stanley Plumly, Dave Smith, Henry Taylor, David Wojahn, Susan Wood, and Baron Wormser; others are perhaps not as well known, but their poems are remarkable, true testaments to Bill.
In Bone Light, Orlando White's debut volume, he explores the English language from a Diné (Navajo) perspective. He invites us to imagine that we, as a people—all people in this imaginary country called the United States—are speaking an Indigenous language and that the English language exists merely as a remnant of the colonial past. Despite its tenuous existence in this re-imagined present, English remains a danger to Indigenous thought, as it threatens to impose an alien worldview through its vocabulary and syntactical maneuvers. Historically, English was used by non-Natives to document Indigenous cultures; against this historical backdrop, White also writes to document, but he works to create something more beautiful than harmful. He does not attempt a critique of the English language; he works with it and against it to gain a better understanding of its peculiarities and limits, creating a relationship through these sometimes humorous, sometimes irreverent acts of exploration. Throughout Bone Light, Orlando White approaches the English language as if he has just encountered it, as if it were a mysterious set of symbols. Focusing on the particles of the language, the punctuation marks, the letters, the spaces between words, he turns them a while in his hand like strange inexplicable artifacts from a lost world, then sets to work, refashioning them into something he can use.