cover image Tender


Toi Derricotte. University of Pittsburgh Press, $14 (80pp) ISBN 978-0-8229-5640-2

In her fourth book, the award-winning Derricotte (Captivity, etc.) focuses on the aftermath of slavery, continued sexism and violence within the family. These poems plunge into the psychology of race and gender and other key components of identity. The seven sections radiate, like spokes of a wheel, from the title poem, which reads in its entirety: ""The tenderest meat/ comes from the houses/ where you hear the least// squealing. The secret/ is to give a little/ wine before killing."" Derricotte, a light-skinned African American woman, wrestles with ""passing"" in a still racist society. Her work reaches out into the black and white and comes up with meaning that is often complex and rich--in short, gray. Her subjects range from the Portuguese slave traders' fortress in Ghana (where Africans were held before being loaded onto ships), to domestic violence (in the prose poem, ""When My Father was Beating Me""). The wheel comes full circle in the last section, which is about a remarkable sexual reawakening, and ends with a startling short poem, ""Clitoris."" Derricotte delivers frankness and hope through her thoughtful probing of encounters with complex racial and sexual relations. (Sept.)