From Library Journal
This anthology of the work of 50 African American poets complements co-editors Harper and Walton's Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep (LJ 12/93), which showcased 35 recent African American poets. Included in chronological order here are over two centuries of poets, from Jupitor Hammon (1720-1800) to Reginald Shepherd (b.1963). Critical opinions in the headnotes are more persuasive and sweeping than the brief notes of the earlier one. For example, the editors argue that Sterling Brown's "body of poetry" is one of the greatest produced by an American in this century and that Robert Hayden has "amassed a nearly flawless collection of poems regarded as among the finest by an American of this century." Such assessment should bring into sharper focus the importance of issues like "belonging," dialect, identity, and race in a multiethnic society. More than ever, one sees that African American poetry essentially begins with Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), whose pioneering poetry ("different voicings") endures. That so few African American poets before Dunbar's era were allowed to achieve "voice and freedom" is a tragic waste. The editors' eloquent, outspoken vision provides a springboard for further examination of what constitutes the mainstream of American poetry.-Frank Allen, Northampton Community Coll., Tannersville, PA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
After the triumph of their last editorial collaboration, Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans since 1945
(1994), poets Harper and Walton have teamed up again, this time to select the best of two centuries of African American poetry. In their introduction, they write that if there is a single, overarching theme shared by the 52 poets gathered here, it is the "quest for identity and a belonging that will not compromise the self," a crucial search that continues unabated as racial inequality persists. The most haunting works are those written by slaves, such as George Moses Horton and Frances E. W. Harper, who wrote that slaveowners "tried to hide / Book learning from our eyes; / Knowledge didn't agree with slavery--/ 'Twould make us all too wise." So she and others taught themselves, and their bid for spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and artistic freedom has found fruition in every poet who followed on that long, long road to justice, from Sterling A. Brown to Toi Derricotte, Elizabeth Alexander, and Reginald Shepherd. Donna Seaman