- Publisher: Graywolf Press
- Available in: Paperback, hardback
- ISBN: 978-1555-974407
More Poems from this Book
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Martha Collins’s book-length poem Blue Front won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for 2006. It was also chosen as one of “25 Books to Remember from 2006” by the New York Public Library, and received an Ohioana Book Award.
Through unflinching examination of her father’s experience witnessing a black man’s lynching, Collins has produced a commanding book-length poem. As a five-year-old in Cairo, Illinois, in 1909, Collins’ father sold fruit in front of a restaurant. One November day, he was hoisted on a relative’s shoulders to watch a bloodthirsty mob kill a black man and then, in an escalation of its ‘hunger,’ hang an accused white murderer. Collins carefully examines the event and its aftermath, especially the effect on her father. She then extends her thoughtful scrutiny to incorporate newspaper accounts, photographs, personal accounts, and history to expose the way racism permeates all layers of society. . . . More than worthy as poetry,Blue Front is also a powerful statement about America and a potent reminder of humankind’s terrible potential.” —Booklist
Collins’s fifth volume and first book-length poem concerns a horrifying lynching in her father’s hometown. In sometimes narrative, sometimes impressionistic modes, Collins moves out from Cairo to the sad history of race relations in southern Illinois and throughout America since the Civil War. Snippets from letters, postcards, statistics, eyewitness reports and other documents mingle with Collins’s own appalled voice to create a work that mixes resolve with horror. —Publishers Weekly
Collins’s] discursive, breathless, self-contradicting, breaking-off-and-circling-back techniques make the book feel like the testimony of a traumatized witness. Which, of course, it is.” —Dana Goodyear, New York Times Book Review
Once picked up, Blue Front cannot be put down.” —Midwest Book Review
Collins’s earlier books of poems suggested a poet capable of brilliant verbal pyrotechnics, a writer at once playful, sensuous, and technically very adept. WithBlue Front, however, she has risen to a different level altogether, for this is a brilliant book, and one of lasting importance.” —Colorado Review
Collins assembles a pastiche of found material—excerpts from newspaper articles, speeches and interviews—and interlaces it with her own verse. She taps into race memory in America through her father’s experience, experimenting with various poetic shapes to create a fragmented tapestry in which no evidence—even that of our own eyes—is wholly reliable. Blue Front achieves a convincing—and chilling—cumulative effect.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
Collins is a poet fully utilizing the full range of her craft to depict collective guilt as mirrored in a single incident. The collection then is not merely a compilation of poems—sometimes lyrical, sometimes narrative—but is a compelling montage of our common history.” —Poetry International
Reading this clear-eyed, sorrowing, searching poem of witness, I feel gooseflesh, and I weep, for fear and for the truth of our U.S. racism, which goes on and goes on. I admire everything Martha Collins has written, and I feel she was born to write this book. I want to quietly thank her, and to quietly thank those to whose memory she dedicates this great work.” —Jean Valentine
Blue Front is an essential book for anyone interested in the history of race and racism in the United States. Martha Collins, a poet of unfailing intelligence and linguistic gifts, has created an original collage that conveys the texture and complexity of the events surrounding a lynching in 1909. Most importantly, the book’s force accrues and moves beyond that moment; it speaks to the most urgent conflicts of our own day—and days to come. What a fiercely uncompromising writer she is!” —Alice Fulton
______________ There were trees on those streets that were named for trees: Sycamore, Cedar, Poplar, Pine, Elm, where the woman's body was found, where the man's body was taken and burned— There must have been trees, there were trees on Seventh Street, in front of the house that stands in the picture behind the carriage that holds the boy's mother, the boy's cousin, the boy— And of course there were trees on Washington Avenue, wide boulevard lined with exotic ginkgoes, stately magnolias, there were trees on that street that are still on that street, trees that shaded the fenced-in yards of the large Victorian houses, the mansion built by the man who sold flour to Grant for the Union troops, trees that were known to the crowd that saw the victim hanged, though not on a tree, this was not the country, they used a steel arch with electric lights, and later a lamppost, this was a modern event, the trees were not involved. __________ hang as a mirror on a wall, or the fall of a dress. a dress, a shirt on a line to fasten to dry. on the rack, or back in the closet again, a sweet curse on it all, sliver of nail, delayed attack. shamed creature, a curse on itself, so the act of doing it changes the verb, tense with not quite right. with rope, like a swing from a tree. from a pole, like a flag, or holidays, from an arch lit bright with lights. in the night, in the air like a shirt. without, or with only a shirt. without, like an empty sleeve.