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Blue Front: Poemsby Martha Collins
Synopses & Reviews
A stunning account of racism, mob violence, and cultural responsibility as rendered by the poet Martha Collins
the victim hanged, though not on a tree, this
was not the country, they used a steel arch
with electric lights, and later a lamppost, this
was a modern event, the trees were not involved.
--from "Blue Front"
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.
"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.' (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
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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