cover image Shake Loose My Skin CL

Shake Loose My Skin CL

Sonia Sanchez. Beacon Press (MA), $22 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-8070-6850-2

Mapping out an education that starts with a ""Homecoming""--""I have been a/ way so long/ once after college/ I returned tourist/ style to watch all/ the niggers killing/ themselves""--and arrives at a ""Love Poem"" that asks, ""where are the fathers/ strutting their furlined/ intellect bowing their/ faces in the crotch/ of academia,"" Sanchez avoids many of the poetic pitfalls that an explicit political agenda can entail. This gathering, including work from six previous collections, highlights Sanchez's range: prose poems investigate disenfranchised lives, from a lover strung out on dope to a hate-crime victim whose home has been spray-painted with the predictably horrifying epithets, while lyrics move down the page in sinewy lines that seem to pluck living speech from air. But it is love, or the lack therof, that is at the heart of the book. Sanchez's language is restless in seeking it out, shuttling back and forth from a gritty black vernacular in ""Towhomitmayconcern"" (""git yo/ self fattened up man/ you gon be doing battle with me/ ima gonna stake you out"") to the jazzy nomenclature of ""This Is not a Small Voice"" (""This is the voice of La Tanya./ Kadesha. Shaniqua. This/ is the voice of Antoine./ Darryl. Shaquille."") Such polyvocal lyrics celebrate the breadth of black culture, and probe the silences of bigotry. Like June Jordan, Sanchez is at her best when enacting power struggles rather than merely rallying political support in easy battlecries, as some of these poems do. This collection should draw wide attention to the consistency of Sanchez's achievement, and to the success of her formal adaptations, like the recent ""Blues Haikus"": ""am I yo philly/ outpost? man when you sail in/ to my house, you docked."" (Feb.)