cover image “I”: New and Selected Poems

“I”: New and Selected Poems

Toi Derricotte. Univ. of Pittsburgh, $29.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8229-6583-1

Derricotte (The Undertaker’s Daughter), writer and cofounder of the Cave Canem Foundation, is a seminal figure in the American poetry community. Drawing from five previous books spanning over four decades, this retrospective volume unflinchingly explores the author’s complex experiences as a light-skinned black woman in America. “For years, to avoid conversations that would take/ a lifetime, minds purposely dulled for generations/ (‘Single consciousness,’ Dubois might have called it),/ I would say when introduced—to avoid later embarrassment/ For us both—I’m Toi Derricotte, I’m black, and stick my hand out.” Poets Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, and Anne Sexton, as well as artists and performers such as Natalie Cole, Billie Holiday, and Alice Neel appear throughout the collection. In raw, confessional poems, the speaker chronicles the abuse she experienced at the hands of her father, as well as the graphic, stunning and powerfully feminine experience of a natural childbirth. Derricotte’s attention lingers on places of struggle where life is at its most vibrant, urgent, and surprising: “to hold that pain/ until it writes a poem, to hold it/ for years until you learn both the holding and the writing.” (Mar.)