May 15, 2017 Booklist 11 www.booklistonline.com
advocate Mock wrote about growing up poor,
multiracial (daughter of a half Native Hawaiian, half Portuguese mother and an African
American father from Texas), and trans in Hawaii. In her second memoir, she concentrates
on her turbulent twenties, when she worried
about being found out. Everywhere she went,
she felt, someone knew her or knew of her
and the fact that she used to be man. “It was
the price I paid for living my truth.” During
this period of her life, when she was “young
and seeking,” she never allowed herself to get
close to anyone. Instead, she “vacillated between revealing and concealing” herself. She
wanted to be admired yet remain “unknown.”
Mock goes on to divulge how she came to
be comfortable in her own skin as journalist, television host, wife, and woman of color
struggling to find her place in male-centered,
white-dominated, corporate America. An
honest and timely appraisal of what it means
to be true to yourself. —June Sawyers
YA: Mock’s energy, charm, and candor
about coming to terms with transgender
life, not to mention her splendid success,
will inspire YAs. JS.
By Elise Paschen.
May 2017. 80p. Red Hen, paper, $16.95
In lean and supple lyrics darted with alarming rhymes and laced with skirmishing
patterns, Paschen (Bestiary, 2009), cofounder
of Poetry in Motion, now in its twenty-fifth
year of bringing poetry to the people, achieves
breathtaking perfection of craft and form. The
precision of her language and the bewitchment
of her meter, her evocative use of parallel narrative lines and incantatory repetition, embody
the yin-yang of existence: the matching of light
with dark, bliss with pain, love with betrayal.
Beach and sea are settings for family happiness
and grave danger. A beloved house is a sanctuary and a place of secret treachery. Paschen
writes of the disjointed logic of dreams, the
munificence and struggle of a tree in Chicago,
the English countryside, Native American ceremonies, and an airplane in the tartly funny
“The Middle Seat.” A mother’s love is mapped
by the chime of a cell phone; a daughter grieves.
“Skein” and “Sinkhole” speak to human entanglements and despair. As these poised, elegant,
wry, and knowing poems crisply unlock and
gracefully unfurl, they reveal fresh perceptions
at every turn. —Donna Seaman
Autumn of the Black Snake: The
Creation of the U.S. Army and the
Invasion That Opened the West.
By William Hogeland.
May 2017. 448p. illus. Farrar, $28 (9780374107345). 973.
On November 4, 1791, a motley force of
June 7, 2017 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize, and the first African American
woman poet laureate of Illinois and poetry consultant to the Library of Congress (later the
U.S. poet laureate). Brooks was brilliantly innovative, profoundly influential, and widely
read. These three books deepen our knowledge of and appreciation for Brooks’ poetry and
for Brooks herself, a resplendent and resounding humanitarian as well as a literary trailblazer.
The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks.
Ed. by Peter Kahn and others.
2017. 330p. Univ. of Arkansas, $29.95 (9781682260241); e-book, $29.95 (9781610756068). 811.6.
The editors, including tireless poetry advocate Kahn, of this unique, new addition to the
Gwendolyn Brooks legacy put together a richly diverse set of poets working with the most
unusual and fertile new poetic form created in recent years. National Book Award winner
Terrance Hayes invented the Golden Shovel, which he illuminates in his stirring foreword,
writing, “Because where do poems come from if not other poems?” In a Golden Shovel
poem, the last words in each line are taken from a Brooks poem. A veritable who’s who of
contemporary poets tried their hands at this encoded homage, including Billy Collins, Mark
Doty, Rita Dove, Nikki Giovanni, Joy Harjo, Billy Lombardo, Sharon Olds, Alberto Ríos,
Tracy K. Smith, and Timothy Yu. Beautifully introduced by Patricia Smith, this is a beguiling and mind-expanding anthology shaped by formal expertise and deep appreciation for
the complexity and resonance of Brooks’ work and profoundly nurturing influence. In all, a
substantial and dynamic contribution to American literature. —Mark Eleveld
YA: Brooks is a poet many teens are already reading in school, and the lively variety of
responses to her poems found here will sharpen their appreciation for her work. ME.
A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life & Legacy of
By Angela Jackson.
May 2017. 216p. illus. Beacon, $24.95 (9780807025048). 811.
Jackson presents an incisive portrait of poet Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000), sharing
with her subject the experiences of an African American woman poet in Chicago. Jackson
brings us into Brooks’ childhood home of limited finances but boundless love for a girl
enthralled by books and dedicated to writing. Brooks published her first
poem at age 11 and as a teen often contributed to the Chicago Defender.
Maligned for her dark skin, Brooks channeled that indelible lesson in
the insidiousness of racism into her poetry, forthrightly exploring complex and sensitive aspects of black lives, especially those of black women.
Continually honing her technique and making “astonishing imaginative
and empathetic leaps,” Brooks attained recognition never before accorded
an African American woman writer as she strove to be a nurturing wife,
mother, and teacher as well as a poet, and generously established prizes for
young writers. Jackson traces Brooks’ close relationships, her essential role in the Black Arts
Movement, and her leaving the white publishing establishment in 1968 for independent
black presses, even self-publishing her work. Jackson’s sensitive portrait of this “quiet genius”
and her finely calibrated insights into her writing celebrate Brooks’ warmth, her “bitter bite,
her slicing sarcasm,” and the revolutionary provocation and power of her courageous, caring,
intricately faceted poems, poems to read and reread for their emotional, social, and moral
repercussions—and for their expounding beauty. —Donna Seaman
The Whiskey of Our Discontent: Gwendolyn Brooks as Conscience and Change Agent.
Ed. by Quraysh Ali Lansana and Georgia A. Popoff.
June 2017. 220p. Haymarket, paper, $18 (9781608467631). 811.
Gwendolyn Brooks was inspired to write poetry by her experiences in the Bronzeville
neighborhood of Chicago, the segregated, often brutal, sometimes dazzling city she stubbornly loved. Lansana puts together yet another superb tribute to Brooks in her centenary
year, following Revise the Psalm (2017), teaming with Popoff to assemble this lively and challenging anthology. Sonia Sanchez kicks things off with a poem about “Sister Gwen,” who
“whispered us to attention / with what we could be.” In his potent introduction, Chicago
activist William Ayers writes that “Gwendolyn Brooks wrote and performed her magnificent poetry for and about the Black people of Chicago, and yet it was also read with anguish,
delight, and awe by white people . . . and ultimately the world.” Thirty incisive essays follow.
There is fire in Carl Phillips’ “Brooks Prosody,” creative engagement in Cin Salach’s “The
Necessary Truth,” and impassioned resonance in Avery R. Young’s “Blacks: A Permission
to Be Blk.” Illuminating essays by Tara Betts, Major Jackson, Patricia Spears Jones, Haki R.
Madhubuti, and others fill this essential collection. —Mark Eleveld
CELEBRATING BROOKS DAY