Blue Front

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Overview

A stunning account of racism, mob violence, and cultural responsibility as rendered by the poet Martha Collins

the victim hanged, though not on a tree, this was not the country, they used a steel arch with electric lights, and later a lamppost, this was a modern event, the trees were not involved.
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Overview

A stunning account of racism, mob violence, and cultural responsibility as rendered by the poet Martha Collins

the victim hanged, though not on a tree, this was not the country, they used a steel arch with electric lights, and later a lamppost, this was a modern event, the trees were not involved.
--from "Blue Front"

Martha Collins's father, as a five-year-old, sold fruit outside the Blue Front Restaurant in Cairo, Illinois, in 1909. What he witnessed there, with 10,000 participants, is shocking.

In Blue Front, Collins describes the brutal lynching of a black man and, as an afterthought, a white man, both of them left to the mercilessness of the spectators. The poems patch together an arresting array of evidence--newspaper articles, census data, legal history, postcards, photographs, and Collins's speculations about her father's own experience. The resulting work, part lyric and part narrative, is a bold investigation into hate, mob mentality, culpability, and what it means to be white in a country still haunted by its violently racist history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"I admire everything Martha Collins has written, and I feel she was born to write this book. I want to quietly thank her, and to quietly thank those to whose memory she dedicates this great work." --Jean Valentine

Publishers Weekly
Collins's fifth volume and first book-length poem concerns a horrifying lynching in her father's hometown. In Cairo, Ill., in 1909, two men (one black, one white) suspected of rape were murdered by a crowd; local newspapers celebrated the event. In sometimes narrative, sometimes impressionistic modes, Collins moves out from Cairo ("the most southern point in all the North") to the sad history of race relations in southern Illinois and throughout America since the Civil War. Snippets from letters, postcards, statistics, eyewitness reports and other documents mingle with Collins's own appalled voice to create a work that mixes resolve with horror: "Often they cut off parts for souvenirs... Children were often there they were being taught." With debts to W.S. Merwin's The Folding Cliffs and William Carlos Williams's Paterson, Collins (Some Things Words Can Do, 1999) creates at once a compelling, bristling story and a collage of evidence about white guilt. Another strand follows the poet's father (five years old in 1909) through his young adulthood (which may have included involvement with the Ku Klux Klan-common, even ubiquitous, there and then) into his kind old age. "What he had seen/ is also what I was," Collins writes: "I had to know." (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555974497
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 5/25/2006
  • Pages: 88
  • Sales rank: 825,434
  • Product dimensions: 6.05 (w) x 9.11 (h) x 0.19 (d)

Meet the Author

Martha Collins is the author of four previous poetry collections, including Some Things Words Can Do, and co-translator of two volumes of poetry from the Vietnamese. She teaches at Oberlin College and lives in Oberlin, Ohio, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2006

    The fifth volume of poetry by author Martha Collins

    The fifth volume of poetry by author Martha Collins, Blue Front: A Poem relays the horror that Collins' father witnessed as a five-year-old boy, while selling fruit in front of the Blue Front Restaurant of Cairo, Illinois in 1909. Along with an estimated 10,000 spectators, Collins' father saw the vicious lynching of a black man, and afterward, a white man, both of whom were abandoned to the frenzied violence of the participants. The free-verse poetry narrative varies its rhythm, style, and meter from page to page, and explores human hate, mob mentality, culpability, and what it means to be white in a nation with a racist history. Once picked up, Blue Front cannot be put down. He wanted to know / everyone in the end / he was a kind // man did errands / for old people younger / than he helped kids // with school met people / in stores on the street / please may I help // And the last day / he said You know / this world could be // a better place just / promise me that you / will help he waited // he made change may / I help you please / make change

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