cover image I, Too, Sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry

I, Too, Sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry

Catherine Clinton, Stephen Alcorn. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $22 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-395-89599-3

In this well-chosen collection, Clinton, an author and editor of women's history books for adults, chronologically presents work by 25 poets, from Lucy Terry and Phillis Wheatley to Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen to Maya Angelou and Alice Walker. Because only six of the poets are represented by more than one poem, however, readers are unlikely to get a strong sense of any one poet, despite the biographical entry on each. Alcorn's (Langston Hughes: An Illustrated Edition) abstract mixed-media illustrations on grainy, almost linenlike paper recalls Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas and, at times, the kaleidoscopic space of Marc Chagall. Each illustration is a complex response to the poem, inviting readers to both study the artwork and muse over the text. Facing each biographical note is a full page of taupe-and-white pattern, however, which quickly grows monotonous, particularly in comparison with the striking forms and splintered spaces of the full-color art. Rather than relegating the artwork to a supporting role, this book places the paintings on at least the same level as the classic poems. While those who love poetry may wish there were more poems, the strong selections that are included here--coupled with the dramatic paintings they have inspired--are likely to put readers on the trail to the poets' further works. All ages. (Oct.)