OUTLANDISH BLUES

Carolyn Sorisio, Author, Honoree Fanonne Jeffers, Author . Wesleyan Univ. $26 (72p) ISBN 0-819-56583-0 ISBN 978-0-8195-6584-6

"Muse, a Lady Cautioning," dedicated to Billie Holiday, demonstrates Jeffers's ability, in this second collection, to create beautifully crafted, nuanced, ambivalent figures out of people who have become reified by myth or history: "Yes, these predictable fifths. O, the blues/ is all about slinging those low tales out/ the back door... She's aware – yeah, I'm going to/ kiss some man's sugared fist tonight.... Lady cautioning me:/ Just tough this thing out, girl. Sweat through the jones./ Don't ask for nothing. Spit your last damned note." Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Coltrane and other musicians follow in the first of three sections. In the second section Jeffers fleshes out women from Bible stories: Lot's wife and daughters; Abraham's wife Sarah; and Hagar, Sarah's servant. Those poems are strongest which take the reader quickly through a furious tour of the mental and physical states of the characters, and work as vivid illustrations of the violent sides of the Bible stories (incest, rape, adultery). The question of how religion can be used as both a palliative and a tool for control is raised thematically in the third section of the book, as is the question of politeness and discomfort with relation to such subjects. In the title poem, kidnapped children are transported to the slave-owners of North America, where they're sexualized, subjugated and handed a God who will bear the white face of their master, but who will also promise salvation. The poet works to confront the forces propelling us into such situations, spitting out her notes in a voice that at its best has breadth, power and ambivalence. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 04/21/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
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