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American Sublime: Poems Paperback – September 22, 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; First Edition edition (September 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555974325
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555974329
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.1 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #108,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Barbecues, midwives, "Soyinka and Senghor," "Etheridge Knight, from prison," grandparents, students, "not Congo but Zaire," mom, "aggressive magic," jail, "my book," "children, fathers, brothers"—in this kaleidoscopic fourth collection, Alexander traces shifting global histories, family alliances, ways of working and being trapped, and means of escape in four broad parts. The first, "American Blue," takes in the U.S.'s post- '60s history alongside Alexander's child-, student- and adult-hood (with stops at Ellington/Strayhorn's '40s, Monk's '50s and a dream of Krishna along the way). A selection from a larger series titled "Ars Poetica" covers the ways poetry confronts history: " 'Poetry,' I shouted, 'Poetry,'/ I screamed, 'Poetry,/ changes none of that/ by what it says/ or how it says, none./ But a poem is a living thing/ ... and as life/ it is all that can stand/ up to violence.' " "Amistad," the third section, channels the black Atlantic convincingly, while the last section, "American Sublime," consists of just two short lyrics; the latter ends "light that carries/ possibility, illuminates,// but can promise nothing but itself." This collection makes similarly restrained promises and delivers lucidly. (Oct. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

With a scholarly grasp of personal, political, and private histories, Alexander's newest collection examines the African American experience, particularly during the nineteenth century, in poems about ancestry, language, religion, poetry, and art. The "Amistad" cycle is a potent account of the slave-ship rebellion and the kidnapped Africans' subsequent imprisonment. In a manner reminiscent of Kurosawa's film Rashomon, Alexander adroitly retells events from different points of view with a dramatic voice and carefully selected details. The "Amistad" poems are skillfully linked to persona and personal poems that reflect modern African American experiences, from being singled out in school, as in "Tina Green," to carefully responding to white authority figures, in "Smile." Alexander has a musical voice that shifts from jazz-quick to bluesy to soulful lamentation. Nowhere is this more evident than in the incredible poem "Notes From." Although many poems in the "Ars Poetica" sequence seem less cohesive, less melodious, and at times less poignant, the collection as a whole is a powerful contribution to American poetry. Janet St. John
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

Elizabeth Alexander is a poet, essayist, playwright, and teacher born in New York City and raised in Washington, DC. She has published numerous books of poems, including AMERICAN SUBLIME (2005), which was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, a young adult collection (co-authored with Marilyn Nelson), MISS CRANDALL'S SCHOOL FOR YOUNG LADIES AND LITTLE MISSES OF COLOR, which won a 2008 Connecticut Book Award, and, most recently, CRAVE RADIANCE: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS 1990-2010. She teaches at Yale University, and this is her first picture book. You can visit her online at www.elizabethalexander.net.

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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have been an avid reader of Elizabeth Alexander poetry work since I discovered her first book, The Venus Hottentot, over a decade ago. Since then, I have returned to her poems for their particular blend of the vernacular and spectacular, the idiomatic and quixotic; for their splendidly free-wheeling yet formal-feeling lines and composition; for their ability to move from the individual to the communal and back again. In her newest poems, Alexander delivers on the promise of what poetry and what America can be. In bearing witness to brutality and beauty, in offering a poet's dismay at and hope for America's still unattained possibility, these poems are themselves sublime.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By zhabazon on February 5, 2009
Format: Paperback
I was unfamiliar with Elizabeth Alexander until I heard her recitation at President Obama's inauguration. The delivery won me over, the cadence, words and the way Ms. Alexander looked into the audience as she spoke. Having just read her collection, "American Sublime," I am now an official fan.

These poems are divided into four sections, I. American Blue, II. Ars Poetica, III. Amistad, and IV. American Sublime. Subjects are historical, experiential, thoughtful, illuminating and expressive in an assemblage of words which are sometimes so simple that it's hard to believe such a strong emotion is elicited. On the page, the ink is balanced.

From Ars Poetica #100: I Believe:
"Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I'm sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?"

These poems are Afro-American or African stories, but the instincts transcend our universal experiences. Read these and you will both learn and feel.
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