Blue Front Poems


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Graywolf Press


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155597449X

9781555974497

88 Pages

$15.00

CAD17.00

Request Desk Copy Request Exam Copy
Martha Collins's father, as a five-year-old, sold fruit outside the Blue Front Restaurant in Cairo, Illinois, in 1909. What he witnessed there, with 10,000 participants, is shocking.
In Blue Front, Collins describes the brutal lynching of a black man and, as an afterthought, a white man, both of them left to the mercilessness of the spectators. The poems patch together an arresting array of evidence—newspaper articles, census data, legal history, postcards, photographs, and Collins's speculations about her father's own experience. The resulting work, part lyric and part narrative, is a bold investigation into hate, mob mentality, culpability, and what it means to be white in a country still haunted by its violently racist history.

REVIEWS

Praise for Blue Front

"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
 
"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 who later seeks a home in an all-white community. 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. Collins employs a staccato, matter-of-fact tone that strikes like a sledgehammer at persistent, if hidden, hate. 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 Cairo, Ill., in 1909, two men (one black, one white) suspected of rape were murdered by a crowd; local newspapers celebrated the event. In sometimes narrative, sometimes impressionistic modes, Collins moves out from Cairo ('the most southern point in all the North') 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: 'Often they cut off parts for souvenirs . . . Children were often there they were being taught.' With debts to W.S. Merwin's The Folding Cliffs and William Carlos Williams's Paterson, Collins (Some Things Words Can Do, 1999) creates at once a compelling, bristling story and a collage of evidence about white guilt. Another strand follows the poet's father (five years old in 1909) through his young adulthood (which may have included involvement with the Ku Klux Klan—common, even ubiquitous, there and then) into his kind old age. 'What he had seen/ is also what I was,' Collins writes: 'I had to know.'"—Publishers Weekly 

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Martha Collins is the author of four previous poetry collections, including Some Things Words Can Do, and co-translator of two volumes of poetry from the Vietnamese. She teaches at Oberlin College and lives in Oberlin, Ohio, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


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  • Martha Collins is the author of four previous poetry collections, including Some Things Words Can Do, and co-translator of two volumes of poetry from the Vietnamese. She teaches at Oberlin College and lives in Oberlin, Ohio, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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