I don’t actually read poetry that comfortably. I mean this specifically that I don’t read books of poetry that comfortably. I tend to want to finish books and that leads me to moving through poetry too quickly. And so I often avoid collections, and since I teach high school English, I figure I get a decent amount of poetry in my life as a matter of course.
Luckily for me, I listened to the audiobook version of this book read by the author and so I had the author and speaker of the poetry combined together to create a really enjoyable experience. I liked this book a lot more than I did her adult novel Another Brooklyn, even though they cover a lot of the same ground. Something was more realized about this book.
I think the most interesting part of this book was her descriptions of travelling from North to South and seeing the differences in culture and social rules and laws at play. Woodson was born in a sort of transitional moment in American history and her viewpoint as a child as well as her collector of family stories allowed for the inconsistencies of American life be captured in poetry in ways that it’s often quite difficult to relate in a novel because of the conflicting and paradoxical emotions involved. America lies to itself constantly, and a lie is more easily understood in a format where truth does not always mean answers.
Here’s a poem from this book that I use with my students: