Image by Kimberly Farmer

Sara Beth West

(@fiftytwowest)

is a reader and a writer, offering book reviews and interviews with leading writers and thinkers.

On (Super Bowl) Sunday, We Read Poetry

Each Sunday, I post a brief introduction to a collection of poetry I've been loving. I include one poem that I think really sings. No review. No need. If it's here, you'll know I recommend it. If you have one to recommend (yours or someone else's), send it along. I'll do my best to be here every Sunday.

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I've made no secret of my appreciation for Nikki Giovanni. She is one of our most beloved wise elders, and I'm thankful for every word I've heard or read from her. Surprising then, that it took me so many years to find this collection of The100 Best African American Poems that includes an audio CD of the poems being read by various powerful voices, including Sonia Sanchez, Ruby Dee, Elizabeth Alexander, and Giovanni herself. Here's to beautiful voices like these (and like Amanda Gorman's at the Super Bowl tonight) being lifted together. New to me from this collection was "Choosing the Blues" by Angela Jackson:


When Willie Mae went down to the barber shop

to visit her boyfriend who cut hair there

I went with her. Walking beside her on the street

the men said hey and stopped to watch her just walk.

Boyfriend Barber cut hair and cut his glance at her

O, he could see the tree for the forest; he pressed

down the wild crest on a man's head and shaved it off

just so he could watch her standing there by the juke

box choosing the blues she would wear for the afternoon.

Right there Little Milton would shoot through the store-

front with the peppermint-stick sentry twirling outside ---

"If I didn't love you, baby, grits ain't groceries, eggs

ain't poultry and Mona Lisa was a man."

And every razor and mouth would stop its dissembling

business. And Time would sit down in the barber's chair

and tell Memory poised with its scissors in hand

not to cut it too short, just take a little off the ends.


For more from Angela Jackson, click here. And for more from Nikki Giovanni, listen to this On Being episode.

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