A poem about that thing with feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
May_Jamaal.jpgSo wrote Emily Dickinson more than 100 years ago. Over the years people have questioned what this agoraphobic spinster was hopeful about. It’s a question that still resonates today — where do you find hope when everything is stacked against you.
Detroit-based poet Jamaal May explores hope in its many forms in his 2016 collection “The Big Book of Exit Strategies.” Feathers, wings and birds appear often in these poems that spring from hunger and devastation and racism and all the other issues that come from living in poverty in the wealthiest country in the world.

Continue reading “A poem about that thing with feathers”

Yet do I marvel at the courage of black poets

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Countee Cullen

Because it’s February and because, apparently, I am trite, I will dedicate this month’s poetry posts to work by black writers.

Several years ago when I was fairly newly married, had a child and a full-time job, I decided I thought it made sense to get a master’s degree in English. Because I had an odd work schedule — daily newspapers have lots of those for those willing to take them — I could only take classes on Mondays. My choices were limited and because of that, I took an odd collection that, I think, was good for me.

My favorite was my first, a class on the Harlem Renaissance, a movement I’d heard of, but didn’t know much about. I learned so much about the African-American experience through literature written by black Americans that my fascination with it has continued to this day. It’s a crime so many of these gifted writers with something important to say are unknown to most Americans, and their work is rarely read outside of survey courses on African American literature.

Continue reading “Yet do I marvel at the courage of black poets”

The sad truth about ‘Between the World and Me’

This week Ta-Nehisi Coates won the National Book Award for nonfiction for “Between the World and Me,” a heartfelt letter he wrote to his son about being a black man in America today.

coatesI had read reviews of this book and interviews with the author, a national correspondent for The Atlantic where he writes about cultural, social and political issues, usually dealing with race. Earlier this year, he won a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant for his body of work, which includes this book, a memoir, “The Beautiful Struggle,” and many notable pieces for The Atlantic. Despite this research, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Continue reading “The sad truth about ‘Between the World and Me’”

On race and making assumptions

Clearly, this is my summer of reading books about the African-American experience. There’s this, and this, and this and even this. Today, another one, this one written by a friend of mine. “Nappy-Headed Negro Syndrome” is unique, funny in a shake-your-head way, insightful and instructional. It creates, then perfectly fills a niche in the national conversation taking place on race relations. Continue reading “On race and making assumptions”

Even the great ones swing and miss

Two new books by authors I love show that, well, you just can’t be great all the time.

Both novels suffer from different faults, but the end result of each was disheartening and left me with the question: “If this had been submitted to a publisher without the great name as author, would they have been published?” Continue reading “Even the great ones swing and miss”