Category Archives: CPR Volume 18, Issue 2

“A Welcome Bridge”: Lucy Negro, Redux by Carolyn Randall Williams Marches on Shakespeare for Black Southern Writers

Lucy Negro Redux, Buy at Amazon
Lucy Negro, Redux
Carolyn Randall Williams
978-0986137013
(2015, Ampersand Books)
$14.95 Paper

A Southern African-American poet has just published a work of radical literary integration.  It storms the last bastion of dead-white-guy literature, the “whites only” lunch counter of Shakespeare studies.  Shakespeare’s progenitorial place in literature makes him patriarchal, a hegemonic figure for some.  Where postcolonial poets meet him, they curse him in his own language, as Aimé Cesaire does through Caliban.  This new work, however, wins a postcolonial victory by making love, not war, with the Bard.  Caroline Randall Williams, in her brilliant first collection entitled Lucy Negro, Redux (Ampersand Books, 2014), uncovers the tantalizing possibility that Shakespeare’s “dark lady” may have been, according to Elizabethan prison records, “Black Luce…a vilde bawde,” an African prostitute in London during Shakespeare’s lifetime.  Through Lucy, she writes back to the Bard and thereby emancipates her own experience as an African-American Southern writer aware of her own mixed-race ancestry.  Williams, rather than curse hegemony, appropriates its goods as reparation. She claims Shakespeare’s legacy as any white writer might.

The radical integration of her verse with Shakespeare’s legacy does not reject pan-Africanist ideas of writers like Hughes and Senghor; it draws upon their faith in the universality of African experience to build what Williams calls “a welcome bridge” to make the elision between Lucy and modern women with slave ancestors, a bridge as politically charged for Southern poets as the bridge at Selma.  If Shakespeare is not just Lucy’s trick but her Romeo, then both Shakespeare’s verse and Williams’ declare “that beauty herself is black after all.”

Williams’ Lucy is both muse and critic to the king of English.  She imagines Lucy attending opening nights of Othello and Henry V, where she becomes mildly indignant and turned on, respectively, not in awe, but pondering the “nothing of nothing…in the strange and cankered hearts of men.” This figure has portentous implications for bondwomen of the Old South, who may have navigated their captivity with complex strategies, accruing bitter privileges from rapists.  Williams evokes their voices in Blues Lyrics reminiscent of Young’s work in Jelly Roll.  She writes this pain in “Comfort Girl Blues”:

No he cant see me at peace; ain’t got none of his own.

Now we’re two hurting bodies haunting his daddy’s home.

As radical as the integration of Sally Hemmings’ descendants into Jefferson family reunions is Black Luce’s integration into the poetic ideals of the sonnet.  There is more than cursing in Black Luce’s power. She manages to bless all her pan-African daughters.  If “Lucy own her body/She run many other” as Williams reports, through Lucy, all young women of color embody the platonic ideal of Western Civilization’s finest love elegies.  Through Williams’ reclamation of Shakespeare, African diasporic literature grows redolent with the possibility of being simply good literature without identity subdivisions, as worthy as Shakespeare, not other but Cleopatra to his Anthony, beloved for its narrative skill as Othello was to Desdemona, not separated, just elbow-to-elbow with the greats at the lunch counter, individual but never parenthetical.  Buy this radical collection of poetry.  Steal it if you must. Read it at all costs.

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 18, Issue 2.

Anne Babson was nominated for the Pushcart for work in The Haight- Ashbury Literary Journal and Illya’s Honey. Her work has been published in the US, in England, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, and Turkey.

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Testimony
by Joan Colby

Improve the darkness. Scatter it with stars, the way a dream permits hyperbole.
The way a diary recommends the ordinary, the priest’s devotions, the daughter’s petition.

Let spring spread its green tablecloth with plenty. The world’s a picnic.
A vixen cries from the wood. A woman Picks up the telephone and hesitates.

Look at the book of pictures the child recollects. Kate Greenaway petticoats.
A tiger with a purple umbrella. So much of memory is snapshot,

Mouse-trap, flash. Eyes glowing red as a werewolf’s. Misapprehensions.
Prove me wrong, says God in the preamble To prayer.

The wind kneels on the prairie where the redwings have returned.
A girl, dazed with light, suspends the morning in a sheet of blossom.

Far away, snows melt and skid from the mountain, propelling the creeks into jocularity.
Whitewater revels. Tragedy of the petrified forest. The stoic enjoys nothing.

A hawk on a high branch watches a flock of small birds alleluia noontide.
Tense with hunger like a siren. Smoke circles into a question-mark.

Behold the houses of the rich and the poor. How a roof means salvation, a floor
recognition, a bed repose. The old man on the porch waiting for cars to pass.

The travelers with the maps and expectations of the young. He remembers
the spotted horses, the foothills, the jack pines, the grey jays quarreling,

the Yellowstone River’s abrupt exclamation as the earth falls away.

 

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 18, Issue 2.

Joan ColbyJoan Colby has published widely in journals such as Poetry, Atlanta Review, South Dakota Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, New York Quarterly, the new renaissance, Grand Street, Epoch, and Prairie Schooner. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, Rhino Poetry Award, the new renaissance Award for Poetry, and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. She was a finalist in the GSU Poetry Contest (2007), Nimrod International Pablo Neruda Prize (2009, 2012), and received honorable mentions in the North American Review’s James Hearst Poetry Contest (2008, 2010). She is the editor of Illinois Racing News, and lives on a small horse farm in Northern Illinois. She has published 11 books including The Lonely Hearts Killers, The Atrocity Book and her newest books from FutureCycle Press, Dead Horses and Selected Poems. Selected Poems” received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize. A chapbook “Bittersweet” is forthcoming from Main Street Rag Press in 2014.

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Economy
by Mary Moore

Even the Mojave has plenty––dunes
moon-white in moonlight, indigo space
so full of stars they powder it like tunes
from planet radio, prayers from Grace
Cathedral, Shao Lin, Tibet. Perkins sells
desert seeds, outwitting water-storing lizards
whose tail-flick paths zigzag electrical
blue, and sand-camouflaged mice with built-in
backpacks. He’s frugal, selling a drought garden’s
worth in biscuit-colored, canvas sacks––
like lava bits, pepper motes, avid dust.
Here, he can hear a snake ripple the slough
of wheat-colored sand, a hawk riding updrafts.
He banks on the given: un-owned, shriven.
 

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 18, Issue 2.

Mary MooreMary Moore has work in Birmingham Poetry Review, Unsplendid, and Drunken Boat, Prairie Schooner, Negative Capability and more. Her first collection, The Book of Snow, was published by Cleveland State University in 1997.

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