Friday, March 09, 2007

Blue Front by Martha Collins

A book-length poem about two lynchings (one of a black man accused, seemingly falsely, of raping a white woman and of a white man who happened to be in the jail at the same time) that occurred in Cairo, Illinois in the early twentieth century. What I admired particularly was that Collins (who, full disclosure, I consider something of a mentor) has written a book-length narrative but has never forgotten that she's writing poetry. I tend to favor narrative poetry simply because I really like narratives, but too often it seems such poems are really mini stories or essays with line breaks thrown in. There is nothing other than the breaks (which additionally are often placed at highly natural comma/semi-colon/period moments) to separate them from prose. But Collins uses her white space, her stanzas, her syntax, her word choices and both form and free verse to never let the reader forget they are inside of a poem. And that made the book a much more complicated, original, thought-provoking, emotion-evoking read.

It was also interesting to trace, via her acknowledgments, the origins of the book--which come from her father's first hand experience, her family's geographical history, an art exhibit in New York, a conversation with a fellow artist, and research. It's a great look into the process of creating a book. I'm of two minds with acknowledgments--I have respect for the writers like DeLillo who leave the text to stand alone but I also love the behind the scenes look offered by a detailed appendix-like acknowledgments page.

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