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United States of Books Project Wrap-Up

Even though I joined the United States of Books project later than many of the others, I really enjoyed the camaraderie and sharing reviews of others on my blog.

I hope you take a look at the wide variety of books we reviewed in 2016.

Among the ones I personally read and reviewed, my favorite book from the project was Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks (I gave it 5 stars).

My 4 star books from the project were:

Drown by Junot Díaz

The Betsy-Tacy Treasury by Maud Hart Lovelace

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

My 3 star books from the project were:

Independence Day by Richard Ford

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

My 2 star books from the project were:

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

I would love to take part in another project like this.

United States of Books: Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 180 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

For Illinois, Entertainment Weekly says, “Sure you can always go with Saul Bellow’s Chicago, but if you’re looking for another view of the windy city, pick up this challenging, essential look at urban black life, with all its beauty and pain.”

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks is her only novel, and despite being familiar with her poetry for a long time, I’ve never read it. Maud Martha is darker than her sister, and this is a shadow that follows her throughout the novel until she eventually learns that it is not about her outward appearance but the well of strength she has inside. As a child, she looks at the world around her and finds the beauty everywhere, like the dandelions she calls “yellow jewels for everyday.” (pg. 2) Maud is very observant, even as she enjoys every moment, she does note that things are not as merry as others make them seem. In her own family, she notes that everyone is “enslaved” by her sister’s beauty (Helen), but Maud is never bitter because she knows that they cannot help it.

Like many, New York City becomes a symbol of dreams and greater things, but like many symbols, they can be tarnished. Maud meets Paul, and she knows that he could have a prettier, lighter woman as his wife. Even as he marries her, she does not delude herself. Leaving her mother’s home for her own with her husband, Maud discovers that her dreams are much different.

“But she was learning to love moments. To love moments for themselves.” (pg. 78)

Brooks’ style is very different from the traditional novelist, where things happen but not necessarily on the page before the reader. She leaves a great many plot points unobserved, while at the same time, enabling the reader to hear directly from Maud. Her observations, her thoughts … providing readers with an inside look at how life of an urban black woman truly was. Through these observations, Brooks provides a window into the racial divide within even the black community, as well as how tough it was during the depression and the beginning of WWII. At the same time, Maud has opportunities to work outside the home, and these moments provide her with insight into how her husband is treated in the workplace.

“When they sat, their heights were equal, for his length was in the legs. But he thought he was looking down at her, and she was very willing to concede that that was what he was doing, for the immediate effect of the look was to make her sit straight as a stick.” (pg. 131)

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks paints a stark picture of urban life within the black community, the differences between how the community perceived the use of the n-word and how it was perceived by whites, and the plight of women in the community. Maud says, “What was unreal to you, you could deal with violently,” and isn’t that true of all of us. What is real to us is harder to deal with head on, but we must push aside our fears. “On the whole, she felt, life was more comedy than tragedy.” (pg. 165) Maud is a pillar of inner strength from whom other women could take lessons.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Although she was born in 1917 in Topeka, Kansas–the first child of David and Keziah Brooks–Gwendolyn Brooks is “a Chicagoan.” The family moved to Chicago shortly after her birth, and despite her extensive travels and periods in some of the major universities of the country, she has remained associated with the city’s South Side. What her strong family unit lacked in material wealth was made bearable by the wealth of human capital that resulted from warm interpersonal relationships. When she writes about families that–despite their daily adversities–are not dysfunctional, Gwendolyn Brooks writes from an intimate knowledge reinforced by her own life.

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360th Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 360th Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s book suggested.

Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Today’s poem is from Gwendolyn Brooks:

the sonnet-ballad

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover’s tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won’t be coming back here any more.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate—and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, “Yes.”
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness

What do you think?

345th Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 345th Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s book suggested.

Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

This poem is from Gwendolyn Brooks, read by Chris Slaughter:

Riot

A riot is the language of the unheard.
—Martin Luther King

John Cabot, out of Wilma, once a Wycliffe,
all whitebluerose below his golden hair,
wrapped richly in right linen and right wool,
almost forgot his Jaguar and Lake Bluff;
almost forgot Grandtully (which is The
Best Thing That Ever Happened To Scotch); almost
forgot the sculpture at the Richard Gray
and Distelheim; the kidney pie at Maxim’s,
the Grenadine de Boeuf at Maison Henri.

Because the Negroes were coming down the street.

Because the Poor were sweaty and unpretty
(not like Two Dainty Negroes in Winnetka)
and they were coming toward him in rough ranks.
In seas. In windsweep. They were black and loud.
And not detainable. And not discreet.

Gross. Gross. “Que tu es grossier!” John Cabot
itched instantly beneath the nourished white
that told his story of glory to the World.
“Don’t let It touch me! the blackness! Lord!” he whispered
to any handy angel in the sky.
But, in a thrilling announcement, on It drove
and breathed on him: and touched him. In that breath
the fume of pig foot, chitterling and cheap chili,
malign, mocked John. And, in terrific touch, old
averted doubt jerked forward decently,
cried, “Cabot! John! You are a desperate man,
and the desperate die expensively today.”

John Cabot went down in the smoke and fire
and broken glass and blood, and he cried “Lord!
Forgive these nigguhs that know not what they do.”

What do you think?

87th Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 87th Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

It’s a new year, and if you haven’t heard there is a new feature on the blog this year . . . my first ever, poetry reading challenge. Yup, that means everyone should be signing up because all you need to do is read 1 book of poetry.

Today, we’re going to wrap up National Black History month (I know it ended in February) with Gwendolyn Brooks from her collection, Selected Poems:

Negro Hero (page 19)
+++to suggest Dorie Miller

I had to kick their law into their teeth in order to save them.
However I have heard that sometimes you have to deal
Devilishly with drowning men in order to swim them to shore.
Or they will haul themselves and you to the trash and the fish
+++beneath.
(When I think of this, I do not worry about a few
Chipped teeth.)

It is good I gave glory, it is good I put gold on their name.
Or there would have been spikes in the afterward hands.
But let us speak only of my success and the pictures in the
+++Caucasian dailies
As well as the Negro weeklies. For I am a gem.
(They are not concerned that it was hardly The Enemy my
+++fight was against
But them.)

It was a tall time. And of course my blood was
Boiling about in my head and straining and howling and
+++singing me on.
Of course I was rolled on wheels of my boy itch to get at
+++the gun.
Of course all the delicate rehearsal shots of my childhood
+++massed in mirage before me.
Of course I was child
And my first swallow of the liquor of battle bleeding black
+++air dying and demon noise
Made me wild.

It was kinder than that, though, and I showed like a banner
+++my kindness.
I loved. And a man will guard when he loves.
Their white-gowned democracy was my fair lady.
With her knife lying cold, straight, in the softness of her
+++sweet-flowing sleeve.
But for the sake of the dear smiling mouth and the stuttered
+++promise I toyed with my life.
I threw back! — I would not remember
Entirely the knife.

Still–am I good enough to die for them, is my blood bright
+++enough to be spilled,
Was my constant back-question–are they clear
On this? Or do I intrude even now?
Am I clean enough to kill for them, do they wish me to kill
For them or is my place while death licks his lips and strides
+++to them
In the galley still?

(In a southern city a white man said
Indeed, I’d rather be dead;
Indeed, I’d rather be shot in the head
Or ridden to waste on the back of a flood
Than saved by the drop of a black man’s blood.)

Naturally, the important thing is, I helped to save them, them
+++and a part of their democracy.
Even if I had to kick their law into their teeth in order to
+++do that for them.
And I am feeling well and settled in myself because I believe
+++it was a good job,
Despite this possible horror: that they might prefer the
Preservation of their law in all its sick dignity and their
+++knives
To the continuation of their creed
And their lives.

Let me know your thoughts, ideas, feelings, impressions. Let’s have a great discussion…pick a line, pick an image, pick a sentence.

I’ve you missed the other Virtual Poetry Circles. It’s never too late to join the discussion.