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Brutal Imagination Hardcover – January 15, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Best known for outlining the nameless figures of old-time city life in a style that, like Charles Simic's, is at once realistic and abstract, Eady, in his seventh collection, boldly takes up the persona of the imaginary black criminal who Susan Smith invented to take the blame for the drowning of her children. "When called, I come," Eady writes. "My job is to get things done." Rather than launching a direct attack on racial injustice, Eady, in the series of poems that comprise the book's first part, makes this Frankenstein's monster into a secret sharer, bound to sit by the suspect's side and shed an invisible tear. "Why do wives and children seem to attract me?" he asks with chilling na?vet?. These poems resemble Ai's monologues of history and headline, an urgent tabloid origami that takes the lurid and the sensational and rediscovers in them the essentially tragic. In the book's second part, "The Running Man Poems," the hero is again a black criminal, one who starts out a bookish prodigy and somehow winds up conceiving of himself as an outlaw, one whose crimes are little more than spearing insects until, we are given to infer, he kills his lover with a razor and buries her in the pines. In both series, poems of secret perspective contemplate the flawed strength of men as imagined through the medium of women. Their brutal subjects and diction work extraordinarily well in opening strange, brutal hearts to the reader. (Jan. 15) Forecast: This book seems designed to reach beyond habitual readers of poetry, but Susan Smith may be too long out of the headlines to generate the kind of media interest needed for it to break out. More progressive high schools, however, might seize on it for generating discussions, despite a few four-letter words and the disturbing themes.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-Eady's poetry is always approachable-often written in a voice almost like speech-so he's a good poet to recommend to YAs who fear that poetry is by definition opaque or elusive. In the title selection, resonant layers of psycho- and sociological complexity make up for linguistic simplicity. The sequence is a series of monologues "spoken" by the fictional black man who Susan Smith invented and charged with the alleged abduction of her children in 1994. The truth-that Smith herself had killed her sons-came out only after the law, media, and popular imagination pounced on the idea of a black perpetrator. Smith was not the first person to capitalize on society's fear of black men and its stereotyping of them as criminals; her crime was simply the most sensational. The disempowering effect of being repeatedly summoned up by whites ensures that this black man is akin to Uncle Ben, Buckwheat, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Tom, and especially Stepin Fetchit-all of whom weigh in with their own monologues in Eady's book. The protagonist examines Smith's accusation from all angles, most powerful and some startling-as when he mentions "one good thing:/If I am alive, then so, briefly, are they," a reference to Smith's children. Smart as a whip and just as stinging, Brutal Imagination is an important addition to any collection.
Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (January 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399147187
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399147180
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,376,459 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

BIO

Cornelius Eady was born in Rochester, NY, in 1954. He is the author of seven books of poetry; Kartunes, (Warthog Press, 1980), Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, (Ommation Press, 1986), winner of the 1985 Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets, The Gathering of My Name, (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1991), nominated for the 1992 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, You Don't Miss Your Water, (Henry Holt and Co., 1995), The Autobiography of a Jukebox (Carnegie-Mellon University Press, 1997), Brutal Imagination (Putnam, 2001), nominated for the National Book Award, and Hardheaded Weather; New and Selected Poems (April 2008, Putnam), nominated for the 2008 NAACP Image Award. He is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Literature (1985), a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, (1993), a Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Traveling Scholarship to Tougaloo College in Mississippi (1992-1993), a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to Bellagio, Italy, (1993), and The Prairie Schooner Strousse Award (1994). His work appears in many journals, magazines and the anthologies Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep, In Search of Color Everywhere, and The Vintage Anthology of African American Poetry, (1750-2000) ed. Michael S. Harper. In June 1997, an adapation of You Don't Miss Your Water was performed at the Vineyard Theatre, in New York City. In April 1999, Running Man, a music-theatre piece co-written with jazz musican Diedre Murray was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama and awarded a 1999 Obie for best musical score and lead actor in a musical. He has taught poetry at SUNY Stony Brook, where he directed its Poetry Center, City College. Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, The Writer's Voice, The 92nd St Y, The College of William and Mary, and Sweet Briar College. With poet Toi Derricote, he is co-founder of Cave Canem, a summer workshop/retreat for African American poets. In January 2002, a production of Brutal Imagination (with a score by Diedre Murray) opened at the Vineyard Theatre, where and won the 2002 Oppenheimer award for the best first play by an American Playwright. At present he is Associate Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 9 customer reviews
This is one of the jewels of my poetry collection.
Mary Christine Delea
Brutal Imagination is the brilliant, stunning creation from one gifted writer.
Mahogany Book Club
Go ahead and read it, you might surprise yourself.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
Contrary to the first reviewer, I find the subject matter of this book ingenious. If the subject of race (and gender) is old and overdone, then why are black males wrongly accused on a daily basis of committing crimes they didn't commit? Why the constant suspicion of those who are different from us?
Even more important than the subject matter is the fact that this invisible, even non-existent, man's voice is convincingly and beautifully rendered. By writing about a man whom no one understands, who is conjured up at will from the darkest regions of white America's consciousness, I, as a white woman am able to relate on a visceral level, to recognize my own blindness and knee-jerk reactions, and also to identify with the character who has been marginalized.
This book is amazing for its refusal to judge evil. Instead of offering solutions, Eady gives us the opportunity to become other people, to live their lives and their truths. By the end of the book, my world seems a much bigger place than it did before I started reading.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
When Susan Smith murdered her young children, she blamed the crime on a black man. When Charles Stuart murdered his wife, he did the same. In the first half of this powerful collection, Cornelius Eady gives voice to this imaginary black man who so often acts as our collective scapegoat. The premise is brilliant, and the poems themselves are powerful--starkly musical and plainspoken.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mary Christine Delea on October 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is one of the jewels of my poetry collection. The poems--particularly the ones in which Eady takes the persona of the black man Susan Smith claimed kidnapped her children--are haunting, intelligent, and vivid.
I was lucky enough to hear Cornelius Eady read from this book in 2001--he has a great presence, and made the poems even more electrifying. Even if you can't get to an Eady reading, though, if you enjoy poetry--especially imaginative and/or sociopolitical poetry--you need to buy this book!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mahogany Book Club on February 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
This collection is made up of two cycles of poems, both dealing with the black man in white America. The first is a cycle of poems narrated by the Imaginary black man Susan Smith invented to cover the killing of her two children. This collection is deep! It's so moving and so vivid it leaves you angry and pulls the heart strings.Eady paints such a picture you can see the tail lights slowly slipping into the water.
The second cycle is about a black family and the barriers of color. I had the pleasure of listening to Eady read from this collection as well as his work in progress. He is very moving. And like he said" The best thing about this is....there is no black man on death row right now for murder because of the imaginary black man she created". This is more than a collection of poetry. Brutal Imagination is the brilliant, stunning creation from one gifted writer.
Dawn
Mahogany reviewer
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I love to read, but poetry isn't usually my first choice...or my second, or my third. In fact, I usually don't like to read poetry written by anybody over the age of 12, because it so often strikes me as pretentious and tiresome. In spite of this, I decided to take a class in African-American poetry just to see if I could gain a better appreciation for this form of art. I have, and Cornelius Eady is a huge part of this. Right before the last section of the semester, which included this book, and "On the Bus with Rosa Parks" by Rita Dove, I had become disillusioned by the poetry of such people as Audre Lorde. I felt that I just wasn't getting something, and was missing what it was that made poetry appeal to so many other people.
These feelings changed when I read the first section of "Brutal Imagination". It was like, "YES"!! Finally. Finally I not only understood what the poet was saying, but I also liked the way he was saying it. I don't pretend to be knowledgeable about the different movements in American/African-American poetry, but I feel like I'm 100% with whatever school Cornelius Eady represents. The first section of poems, which was written from the point of view of the mythical black man created by Susan Smith to explain the disappearance of her children, just touched me. I could so identify with this man, who was correctly identified as a person about whom others would believe the worst, because I know so many people who he could be. It's frightening to think of how little our "social advancements" in the area of interracial relations mean in the face of challenges by people like Susan Smith and Charles Stuart.
This book of poems is not just for black people, or Americans, or any one group of people; I even recommend it to those who don't even like poetry. Go ahead and read it, you might surprise yourself.
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