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Blue by George Elliott Clarke
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Blue is described on cover leaf as "black, profane, surly, damning — and unrelenting in its brilliance." And George Elliott Clarke writes of his poems, "I craved to draft lyrics that would pour out like pentecostal fire — pell mell, scorching, bright, loud: a poetics of arson." I think both these descriptions are fairly accurate.

These poems reveal ugly truths with powerful words. They get into the mud, roll around in it: they go straight for gut and expose the entrails. These are poems that mix abrupt, blunt English with profanity and lilting French. These poems "skillfully turn rage into a violet bruise of love and meaning," according to the spine and I see that, too.

The one thing that unsettled me was how women seemed to be described as sluts and whores, with occasional visions of violence against them (although to be fair visions of violence happen throughout and to many, but it seems to be particularly hostile against women). Positive representations of women were few. But maybe I'm missing something, because these poems are not meant to be nice, but rough, ragged, and brutally real.

Many of these poems were not my cup of tea, they didn't resonate with me. But I can see their beauty, their power and I did love the poems in the last section, called "Ashen Blues". I respect the voice her, the full tilt bravery of the words. This collection is worth a read and many moments of contemplation. I'll have to reread myself at some point to try to reconsider some of these poems from a different angle.

"A pen burns paper. A black Blitzkrieg
Blazes, leaving the glinting odour of charred
Diction, a vocabulary in ashes: Detritus.
The word-scorched paper smells darkly."

— from "Burning Poems" ( )
  andreablythe | Apr 10, 2015 |
The majority of the poems contained in this collection are raw, both for the emotions they transmit off the pages and the crude, almost guttural words that pepper a number of the poems. Clarke admits that he wrote these poems in the later half of the 1990's as a reaction to "The Great Republic's fiery liberty" - I have no idea what he is referring to with that statement - and obviously with the purpose to kindle a fire within the reader. He dives into the depths of black history, social demographics, political events and love affairs with a cuttingly honest, bare-all approach that made me feel like I was being hit repeatedly with an emotional battering ram. While Clarke labels these poems as "black, profane, surly, American", Clarke's years growing up in Nova Scotia and his Canadian life come through in these poems with references to Red Rose tea, Canadian politics and the Nova Scotian landscape. That being said, it is the passion that connects these poems, sometimes subtly and sometimes as the ringing force behind the words. My favorite poem in the collection is Elegy for Mona States, a moving poem of love and admiration for a cousin who has committed suicide. That poem is absolutely beautiful, but at 7 pages in length, I won't be reproducing it here.

Overall, Clarke's poems are more accessible for a non-poetry reader like me than are some other collections I have attempted to read in the past. Clarke writes his poems with a story-telling prose-like quality, so struggling to understand or follow what he is communicated is not a big challenge. I am not a big fan of crass and crude language that was used here, to drive home the message, even though it does so, very effectively. I have mixed feelings about this collection. Some of the poems are absolutely beautiful, some resonated with me in a way I won't forget but most of the poems left me wondering what I was missing or why the a particular turn of phrase was utilized. I came away feeling this was just an average reading experience for me. I preferred his earlier prose work Whylah Falls better. ( )
1 vote lkernagh | Apr 27, 2014 |
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