IN SEARCH OF COLOR EVERYWHERE
A Collection Of African-American Poetry
Edited by E. Ethelbert Miller
256 pages, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95
I HEAR A SYMPHONY
African Americans Celebrate Love
Edited by Paula L. Woods & Feliz H. Liddell
334 pages, Anchor/Doubleday, $30
WITH "In Search Of Color Everywhere," E. Ethelbert Miller has attempted to compile what he describes as "a poetic chronicle of the African-American experience and the making of America." In large part, he has succeeded. Miller has eschewed a chronological approach and organized instead around seven thematic categories: "Freedoms"; "Celebration of Blackness"; "Love Poems"; Family Gatherings"; "Healing Poems"; "Rituals: Music, Dance & Sports"; and "American Journal."
At 44, Miller is ideally positioned to compile such a project. He is old enough to know the work of elder poets such as Margaret Walker and Samuel Allen, and young enough to appreciate the efforts of emerging writers such as Natasha Tarpley and Kevin Young. The result is a rich mix of approaches and generational viewpoints.
Many former St. Louisans are included here, from the well-known - Maya Angelou, Ntozake Shange, Quincy Troupe - and the lesser known: Ruth Garnett, Naomi Long Madgett, Colleen J. McElroy. Eugene B. Redmond, poet laureate of East St. Louis, Ill., is generously and gloriously represented. Redmond's presence is indication of the widespread attention he has begun to achieve, recognition that is long overdue. Redmond's mastery of divergent techniques is evidenced in the funky songification of "Dance Bodies #1" and in the somber "Poetic Reflections. . ." inspired by the death of Henry Dumas. Four passengers in the fourth car,
Divided by a generation of
But feeling a common pain,
A mutual bewilderment:
Four grit faces of the oppressed. The book contains a great deal of politically oriented poems, many of which were influenced by the nationalistic fervor of the '60s and early'70s. Yet, as Miller points out in his Introduction, none of them is anti-white.
I found the absence of biographical entries frustrating. I'm always curious about poets whose work intrigues me, especially those with whom I'm unfamiliar. Also, the editor could have devoted an extra page or two to his Introduction. It is well-written but teasingly brief. I know Miller to be capable of sharp analysis; I would have liked to have seen more of it here.
His decision to include lyrics from significant songs seems prudent. Thomas A. Dorsey's "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," and James Brown's "Say It Loud - I'm Black And I'm Proud" are logical descendants of the slave spirituals. The inclusion of Public Enemy's "Party For Your Right To Fight," however, seems a too-hasty nod to the younger generation. Minus its musical accompaniment, this "poem" appears to express its sentiments in language that rarely rises above cliches. …