It’s absolutely astonishing to me how Finney can create worlds in so few words. Her poems are mini-stories, full of inventive verbs, meaningful spacing and line breaks, and evocative images. She is my favorite poet working today.
From the Toni Morrison-esque “Making Foots” to “In South Carolina: Where Black Schoolmarms Sleep” to “Black Orion” (where she writes of her uncle Frederick J. Davenport, “His channel was the shifting sky and the always ground” – the always is wrong there but as a parallel with ‘shifting,’ it’s absolutely right), Finney’s sharp, precise and thoughtful observations are provocative without ever approaching the pedantic.
More great parallelism in the heartbreaking, “The Afterbirth, 1931” –
[W]e were such light sleepers / such long-distance believers.
In “Mary Mary Quite Contrary,” about a slave named Mary who sued for her freedom and was granted it because her ‘owner’ said she wasn’t worth contesting the suit –
Wonder who she thought she was Wonder / how it wasn’t raped away. . . Wonder / what she knew she was guaranteed / Wonder / how she figured up / the total sum of her parts / and didn’t bother / with the division.
“Pluck” is a surgical dissection of how African-Americans are portrayed in the media. “The Butt of the Joke” takes Whoopi Goldberg to task. “Tenderheaded” and “Mae / I” ought to be read by everyone in the military who wants to restrict certain kinds of hairstyles.
Finney intersperses family photographs that help set the tone for this outstanding collection. Thanks to Northwestern Press for re-issuing it.
And if you haven’t seen this, check it out. This is magnificent.