Antebellum Dream Book

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In surprising turns through different American cities, mindsets, and eras, and through the strange rhythms of dreaming, the celebrated poet Elizabeth Alexander composes her own kind of improvisational jazz. Antebellum Dream Book offers a music of resistances as well as soaring flights of fancy: the conflicts of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and after; a mother's struggle to see through a postpartum fog; a vision in which the poet takes on the narrative voice of Muhammad Ali. The New York Times Book ...

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Saint Paul, MN 2001 Trade paperback New. Trade paperback (US). Glued binding. 92 p. Audience: General/trade.

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Overview

In surprising turns through different American cities, mindsets, and eras, and through the strange rhythms of dreaming, the celebrated poet Elizabeth Alexander composes her own kind of improvisational jazz. Antebellum Dream Book offers a music of resistances as well as soaring flights of fancy: the conflicts of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and after; a mother's struggle to see through a postpartum fog; a vision in which the poet takes on the narrative voice of Muhammad Ali. The New York Times Book Review has said that "Alexander creates intellectual magic in poem after poem." In this stunning collection, she furthers her reputation as a vital and vivid poetic voice keenly attuned to our ideas of race, gender, politics, and motherhood.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Aggressively vivid [and] impressive . . . [Alexander's] asymmetrical, confident short poems and sequences encompass, among other things, paintings and sculptures, riots and civil rights marches, childbirth and motherhood, rock concerts and dinner parties, dreams and chocolate bars, and African-American history."—Publishers Weekly

"Alexander's third book, after Venus Hottentot and Body of Life, features poems about several famous African American icons, including Nat 'King' Cole, Toni Morrison, Richard Pryor, and Muhammad Ali. Her sense of fun comes to the fore in poems such as 'Opiate,' in which the speaker goes out on a date with Michael Jordan. 'Georgia Postcard' explores the new South, which still harbors evils from the past, and 'Overture: Watermelon City' describes friendly neighborhoods where people sit outside at night, though it also notes 'the smell of smoke and flesh, / the city on fire for real' . . . When Alexander's forge is hot, as in 'Neonatoloy,' the reader is transported to her world."—Library Journal

"Each of Alexander's poetry collections is better than the last, and her third is a beauty, musical but restrained as each word, each note, releases its full range of sound and meaning . . . Pop culture and racial conflicts pervade [Alexander's] dream state, but when she contemplates her baby, she enters a realm of sublime self-possession and strength, in which the particulars of race, time, and place spiral into songs of wonder and universal love."—Booklist

"[Alexander's] poems bristle with the irresistible quality of a world seen fresh."—Rita Dove, The Washington Post

"Alexander explores tensions inherent in gender and race and expresses the ambivalence of motherhood in jazz-inflected tones."—Elle

"Alexander has an instinct for turning her profound cultural vision into one that illuminates universal experience."—Clarence Major

"Alexander's lyric intensity and erotic intelligence coexist with and complement an alert historical consciousness."—Chicago Tribune

"Once again Elizabeth Alexander uses exquisite care and delicacy to explore turbulent times and feelings. Bravo!"—Ntozake Shange

Publishers Weekly
After a stellar debut in 1990 and a relative slump six years later with Body of Life, Alexander returns to form (in fact, to a variety of forms) with an aggressively vivid, impressive third collection. Her asymmetrical, confident short poems and sequences encompass, among other things, paintings and sculptures, riots and civil rights marches, childbirth and motherhood, rock concerts and dinner parties, dreams and chocolate bars, and African-American history, from the Middle Passage to Alexander's hometown: "I am from DC," she writes, "therefore responsible./ I am terrified of heights." Alexander's spoken immediacy mixes a personal mode forceful, self-aware, funny with prophetic, visionary lyrics, second- and third-person descriptions of paintings and even a surprisingly effective set of 12 poems in the voice of Muhammad Ali, who advises another boxer to dress "like you the best/ at what you do, like you/ President of the World./ Dress like that." The series "Neonatology" describes Alexander's experience as a new mother; other personal poems describe her dreams, several of which involve Toni Morrison. An anxious poem spoken by a new prisoner ends up dragging its long lines through a cafeteria, where "sin and not sin is scraped off tin trays/ into oversized sinks, all that excess, scraped off and rinsed away." Fans of Alexander's debut, The Venus Hottentot (with its much-anthologized title poem), have been waiting for something this good from her: here it is. (Oct.) Forecast: Alexander's previous books were published by the University of Virginia's Callaloo imprint and Tia Chucha press respectively. The move to well-funded nonprofit Graywolf should mean greater visibility for this title andshould set the stage for longer reviews in the likes of Rain Taxi or Boston Review summing up Alexander's career so far. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
"And memory is romance/ and race is romance" these lines from the five-part poem "Fugue" reveal that memory and race are indeed two of Alexander's most powerful themes. Alexander's third book, after Venus Hottentot and Body of Life, features poems about several famous African American icons, including Nat King Cole, Toni Morrison, Richard Pryor, and Muhammad Ali. Her sense of fun comes to the fore in poems such as "Opiate," in which the speaker goes out on a date with Michael Jordan. "Georgia Postcard" explores the new South, which still harbors evils from the past, and "Overture: Watermelon City" describes friendly neighborhoods where people sit outside at night, though it also notes "the smell of smoke and flesh,/ the city on fire for real." There's filler here, too. One poem is no more than a recipe, and a couple of the celebrity poems come across as almost trivial. But when Alexander's forge is hot, as in "Neonatoloy," the reader is transported to her world: "to the mouse-squeak of your suckling, behold your avid jaws,/ your black eyes: otter, ocelot,// my whelp, my cub, my seapup." Recommended for most collections. Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555973544
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 9/4/2001
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 96
  • Product dimensions: 6.07 (w) x 9.06 (h) x 0.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Alexander was born in New York City and grew up in Washington, DC. She has read her poetry and lectured on African American literature and culture across the country and abroad. She teaches poetry in the Cave Canem Poetry Workshop and at Yale University.

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Table of Contents

Fugue 3
Elegy 8
Overture: Watermelon City 9
Early Cinema 11
Paul Says 13
Hosea Williams 14
Georgia Postcard 15
Visitor 17
Geraniums 19
Islands Number Four 20
Nat Turner Dreams of Insurrection 21
Race 22
Gravitas 25
Baby 26
Lament 27
Crash 28
Nat King Cole on the Amalfi Drive 29
The Toni Morrison Dreams 30
"The female seer will burn upon this pyre" 34
War 35
Hostage 36
Tour Guide 37
Untitled 38
Clean 39
Peccant 40
Papi Lindo vs. The Beautiful Man 41
Saber-Toothed 42
Conch Chowder 43
Pig 44
Rollerblade, Inc. 45
The Creole Cat 46
Opiate 47
Movie Star 48
Receta Culinaria 49
Tomato 50
After the Gig: Mick Jagger 51
Postpartum Dream #2: Folk Art 52
Postpartum Dream #8 53
Postpartum Dream #12: Appointment 54
Evidence 56
The Party 57
Orange 58
Life as Dinner Party 60
Visitation 61
Feminist Poem Number One 62
Your Ex-Girlfriend 64
Gift 65
Narrative Ali 69
Neonatology 82
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First Chapter

Antebellum Dream Book


By Elizabeth Alexander

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2001 Elizabeth Alexander
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-55597-354-X


Chapter One

FUGUE

1. Walking (1963) after the painting by Charles Alston You tell me, knees are important, you kiss your elders' knees in utmost reverence.

The knees in this painting are what send the people forward. Once progress felt real and inevitable, as sure as the taste of licorice or lemons. The painting was made after marching in Birmingham, walking into a light both brilliant and unseen. THE TONI MORRISON DREAMS 1. Toni Morrison despises conference coffee, so I offer to fetch her a Starbucks macchiato grande, with turbinado sugar. She's delighted, can start her day properly, draws on her Gauloises, shakes her gorgeous, pewter dreads, sips the java that I brought her and reads her own words: Nuns go by as quiet as lust Everything in silver-gray and black.

2. Workshop She asks us to adapt Synge's Playboy of the Western World for the contemporary stage. She asks us to translate "The Birds." She asks us to think about clocks, see the numbers as glyphs, consider the time we spend watching them in class, on line, at the hairdresser's. In class she calls me "Ouidah" and I answer. "I am the yellow mother of two yellow boys," she says. I sit up straight. Now the work begins, and Oh the work is hard.

3. She does not love my work, but she loves my baby, tells me to have many more.

4. A Reading at Temple University "Love," she wrote, and "love and love" and "love," and "amanuensis," "velvet," "pantry," "lean," Shadrack, Solomon, Hagar, Jadine, Plum, circles sth runagate and then, she whispered it, love OPIATE A date with Michael Jordan proves he is a true gentleman, arrives smiling, bearing a bouquet of red carnations, driving a modest sports car, in a sober but stylish navy-blue suit. He grins that grin. Hello Michael Jordan then off you go, have your date, then have lovely safe sex, after which you remember, you are married, you don't know Michael Jordan, even though he is your age-mate, and lumbers off the championship court nowadays looking much like you do after nursing your newborn at four in the morning blue night after inky blue night. "Michael Jordan is the opiate of the masses," comes a voice at the end of the dream, perhaps John Cameron Swayze or James Earl Jones as Darth Vader. "Michael Jordan is the opiate of the masses." Opiates are verboten for nursing moms like me. Improbable, ominous; our date was so Father Knows Best, so Mayberry RFD, such a wide, wide grin. I wake to a foghorn, "Opiate of the masses," no memory of the feel of his dark and lovely skin. TOMATO My friend Amy has a jones for pregnant women, wants to fan their flushed faces, pull out chairs for them, carry parasols above them in strong sunlight, fix figs with mascarpone for the calcium and iron. I long to be the rosy, pregnant woman people flock to, hear other women's chattering wisdom, tales: a sister whose teeth fell out from too many babies, milk that spurts across the room at any cry. Her hair went curly. Her hair went straight. Her face erupted in red sprinkles. How are you eating? What are you dreaming? Dream of strawberries, the baby will have rashes. And then one night I dream of Susan Sarandon. She's a radiant red tomato in a straw sun hat, digging in the rows of her organic garden patch, a million months pregnant, and her lover is feeding her chocolate, square by square. AFTER THE GIG: MICK JAGGER The baby cries. Mick Jagger swaggers backstage, lit with sweat. The crowd still screams outside. He's been second-lining with a gaggle of New Orleans Negroes, a white parasol, wares toreador pants and is bare-chested, bones. I've forgiven the Rolling Stones for fetishizing me and my sisters in "Brown Sugar" and "Some Girls." Black girls, black girls, black girls. Why does so much flotsam populate my brain? Why not ancient Ge'ez, the Mingus discography, suminagashi paper technique, something utilitarian? This is a four weeks postpartum dream. Mick Jagger's black baby cries again. Thank God, it isn't mine. Gotta go, love, gotta go, he says, and shrugs his bony shoulders, grins that reptile-mammal grin, picks the baby up, coo-coos, and then rocks that baby down.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Antebellum Dream Book by Elizabeth Alexander Copyright © 2001 by Elizabeth Alexander . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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