“There are two things that happen when someone is trying to decide [...] where they are going to put your otherness,” Marra B. Gad writes in her new book The Color of Love. “For some, there is a blankness in the eyes that takes over, as if they are lost in thought,” but for others, “there is an immediate narrowing, a sharpness that engages. And it is because they don’t need to think.” For Marra, these two reactions encompassed much of her world. In the prologue, Marra describes her background as a mixed Jewish woman, half white and half black, who was adopted by a Jewish family in 1970. To Marra, the labels she identifies with don’t matter, shouldn’t matter, yet, “For many, identity is literally a black-and-white matter.” Something that is, or isn’t.
The Other Side of the American Dream
Review: Don't Call Us Dead
One aspect that makes poetry such a powerful form is how it is often used to tackle pertinent and even controversial topics. Race and sexuality are two timely issues, and Danez Smith tackles both of them in his book of poetry Don’t Call Us Dead. As a gay, black man in America, Smith has a unique perspective that shapes much of what he writes. In some ways, his poems speak to a very particular demographic and yet, they ring true for larger audiences.
In terms of gritty, disturbing realism, Grand Theft Auto has nothing on The Book of Aron. Told in the straightforward voice of a child who understands harshness and guilt from the earliest age, The Book of Aron gives an unflinching view of life in the Warsaw Ghetto as well as what it was like to be a child of deep poverty in the years before childhood was deemed a special and protected space. It is a tale of modernization and industrialization as well as a Holocaust tale.
Novelist Jim Shephard tells the true story of Janusz Korczak, a Jewish-Polish doctor and educator who is heroic both for his revolutionary ideas of treating children with respect and dignity as well as for the work he did running an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto, but he filters it through the eyes of one of the children he helped. When Shephard found Aron’s voice, a voice which has the cadence of a Yiddish curse, he found a way to tell a hero’s story while insisting the hero was quite fallible and quite human.
Mother vs. Daughter: The Battle for Choice
Review: Daughters of the Grasslands
Daughters of the Grasslands
Mary Woster Haug
Nonfiction - Memoir
Bottom Dog Press: pp. 192
Paperback Cost: $16.20
With the open information attitude and international connectivity brought on by the Internet age, women are challenging what it means to be wife, mother, and daughter, raising their voices to share their stories and capture the imaginations of young girls internationally. Few express this better than Mary Woster Haug, author of Daughters of the Grasslands: A Memoir.
She claims that tradition and honor are the chains that bind girls to the same limited resources that their mothers and grandmothers have struggled with. In order for girls to fight these concepts, they must often turn against their own mothers, or feel as though they are: Not a battle for the faint of heart. Raised on the grasslands of North Dakota, Haug is a modern woman born from tradition. A self-proclaimed feminist, she tells of her personal evolution away from the values that buoyed her own mother, and Haug’s effort to escape the judgement she read so plainly in her mother’s features. Haug runs all the way to South Korea, taking a year-long professorship at the University in Daejeon. What she discovers is that mother-daughter conflicts are universal. Instead of escape, South Korea is more a harsh emersion into the tensions Haug never wanted to face.
Review: Brassbones and Rainbows
by Jason Cantrell
Brassbones & Rainbows
2Leaf Press, pp. 120
Shirley Bradley LeFlore’s debut poetry book, Brassbones and Rainbows, is a vivid collection that uses a musical voice to address political and social issues. LeFlore’s word choice throughout her poems evoke the feelings of gospel and blues, and when reading the poems you don’t hear the writer’s voice speaking to you; it shouts and sings with passion you can feel in every line.
Many of the poems in the collection are written in a voice that shouts from the page, making one picture the poet as one who is fighting against being silenced. While the words in the poems don’t specifically say who or what is trying to silence the poet, the undertone of racism and prejudice stands out as the ideology the poet is preaching against. The need to shout out loud and be heard is perhaps best expressed in the closing lines of her poem “Brass Reality,” which reads, “you can bury me in the east / you can bury me in the west / but I’m gonna rise-up and be a TRUMPET in the mawnin.” A reader might recognize these lines, and a Google search of them reveals similar lines in a gospel song, “You May Bury Me in the East.” LeFlore changes the message of the gospel in a simple yet riveting way. The gospel song repeats lines about Christians longing to fly away, and one memorable set of lines reads, “You may bury me in the east / You may bury me in the west / But I'll hear the trumpet sound / In that morning.” The line in the gospel verse indicates that the trumpet sound, playing somewhere off in the undefined distance, signifies hope with each new dawn. LeFlore’s poem, on the other hand, boldly declares that she won’t be waiting to hear the trumpet, but instead will rise up and be the trumpet, playing out loud to spread that hope.
LeFlore’s perspective as an African American southerner comes out clear in her choices of words that call out the stereotypes most commonly associated with her race. In one poem, “Sonnybrotherman Dance,” she writes about a man dancing in what feels like protest against oppression. She tells “Sonnybrotherman” to “Dance in a cotton field / a tobacca farm / a steelmill grind / on a watermelon rind.” The images thus evoked are of an oppressed man dancing to show his passion, his freedom. The poem then calls for the man to dance in order to rise above racism and climb above the insults and crude names he has been called. She tells him, “Dance that boy named colored down in the ground / Stomp that boy named nigga with your 200 pound / Dance that name deep.” These lines bring to mind an image of a man burying the names he has been called, “colored” and “nigga,” and continuing to dance as he leaves those names behind him, buried deep underground. Then, towards the end of the poem, she says, “You don paid your dues / Work a lil soft shoe / Dance your own tune.” These lines tell the message that the subject of the poem has earned the right to dance, and the freedom to dance in his own way, because of the price he had to pay to gain that freedom.
LeFlore also uses a distinctly southern voice in her writing, using a grammar and style that immediately brings to mind a regional accent. She uses alternate spellings of many words to express the accent in them, such as in likes like, “cuz I got a gee-zus complex,” and “jus a box recycled, with a bag of ole bones.” Lines like these add to LeFlore’s distinct voice, and it’s easy to imagine, while reading these poems, LeFlore standing before you like a gospel preacher, shouting out the words.
After reading LeFlore’s poems, one doesn’t have to know for themselves the struggles of being an African American woman living through oppression and fighting for her voice; reading these poems makes you feel as if you have experienced those struggles, and you can hear the fight in the voice on the page.
book reviews by glassworks editorial staff