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Antebellum Dream Book Paperback – September 1, 2001

3.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

After a stellar debut in 1990 and a relative slump six years later with Body of Life, Alexander returns to form (in fact, to a variety of forms) with an aggressively vivid, impressive third collection. Her asymmetrical, confident short poems and sequences encompass, among other things, paintings and sculptures, riots and civil rights marches, childbirth and motherhood, rock concerts and dinner parties, dreams and chocolate bars, and African-American history, from the Middle Passage to Alexander's hometown: "I am from DC," she writes, "therefore responsible./ I am terrified of heights." Alexander's spoken immediacy mixes a personal mode forceful, self-aware, funny with prophetic, visionary lyrics, second- and third-person descriptions of paintings and even a surprisingly effective set of 12 poems in the voice of Muhammad Ali, who advises another boxer to dress "like you the best/ at what you do, like you/ President of the World./ Dress like that." The series "Neonatology" describes Alexander's experience as a new mother; other personal poems describe her dreams, several of which involve Toni Morrison. An anxious poem spoken by a new prisoner ends up dragging its long lines through a cafeteria, where "sin and not sin is scraped off tin trays/ into oversized sinks, all that excess, scraped off and rinsed away." Fans of Alexander's debut, The Venus Hottentot (with its much-anthologized title poem), have been waiting for something this good from her: here it is. (Oct.)Forecast: Alexander's previous books were published by the University of Virginia's Callaloo imprint and Tia Chucha press respectively. The move to well-funded nonprofit Graywolf should mean greater visibility for this title and should set the stage for longer reviews in the likes of Rain Taxi or Boston Review summing up Alexander's career so far.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

"And memory is romance/ and race is romance" these lines from the five-part poem "Fugue" reveal that memory and race are indeed two of Alexander's most powerful themes. Alexander's third book, after Venus Hottentot and Body of Life, features poems about several famous African American icons, including Nat King Cole, Toni Morrison, Richard Pryor, and Muhammad Ali. Her sense of fun comes to the fore in poems such as "Opiate," in which the speaker goes out on a date with Michael Jordan. "Georgia Postcard" explores the new South, which still harbors evils from the past, and "Overture: Watermelon City" describes friendly neighborhoods where people sit outside at night, though it also notes "the smell of smoke and flesh,/ the city on fire for real." There's filler here, too. One poem is no more than a recipe, and a couple of the celebrity poems come across as almost trivial. But when Alexander's forge is hot, as in "Neonatoloy," the reader is transported to her world: "to the mouse-squeak of your suckling, behold your avid jaws,/ your black eyes: otter, ocelot,// my whelp, my cub, my seapup." Recommended for most collections. Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; 1st edition (September 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155597354X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555973544
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.3 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,152,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
It is said that poetry is about telling lies to reveal the truth. The poems in Antebellum Dream Book exaggerate, extort, and disregard reality in order to illuminate the emotional and psychological realities of the author's personas. The poems largely center on the themes of race and motherhood.

In the poems that explore race, the poet often plays with images of black and white, subverting stereotypes and complicating preconceptions. Black, the pejorative adjective, is used to conjure strength, virility, and beauty. For example, in "Early Cinema," a black actor is described as "swarthy like a negro, like the finest Negro man. In The Sheik, they'd heard, he was turbaned, whisked damsels away in a desert cloud." In another poem, the speaker says to her friend, "Wear dark clothes, suits, black suits, like you the best at what you do, like you President of the world." In "Papa Lindo vs. the Beautiful Man", the speaker dreams of a man in a white suit with gardenias for buttons in a black and white movie. Is the man black or white? The gardenias get removed and the man is still beautiful. The poet seems to wonder what effect does the appearance of black or white have on our perception, and why does it matter. In "Race", the speaker introduces a dark skinned uncle who becomes an Oregon forester in the 1930s. He marries a white woman. When he comes back to visit his brothers and sisters, he is black just like them, but when he brings his white wife, the siblings suddenly perceive him differently and don't want to introduce their spouses to him. "What a strange thing is 'race,'" she says, "and family, stranger still." In another dream poem, "Clean," the speaker dreams that she rid her body of a bar of white soap and became "totally clean.
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