From the Publisher
"Eady's joy in language engenders our trust in the music that his art has made of love and pain."
"Eady fuses headlines and history with language that is a field holler, a blues shout, a hip hop rap that combusts inside the soul and keep on burning."
--Bebe Moore Campbell
If the poet's premise...is complex, his verse is unsettlingly direct.
Eady's latest opus nimbly illumines how individuals can piddle away precious time searching for things that just ain't there.
Patrick Henry Bass
Award-winning poet Cornelius Eady displays his amazing literary powers with Brutal Imagination, a stirring, magical song cycle of black men and families in America. Eady's intensely personal work is timeless and shocking in its honesty, and utterly unforgettable.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Best known for outlining the nameless figures of old-time city life in a style that, like Charles Simic's, is at once realistic and abstract, Eady, in his seventh collection, boldly takes up the persona of the imaginary black criminal who Susan Smith invented to take the blame for the drowning of her children. "When called, I come," Eady writes. "My job is to get things done." Rather than launching a direct attack on racial injustice, Eady, in the series of poems that comprise the book's first part, makes this Frankenstein's monster into a secret sharer, bound to sit by the suspect's side and shed an invisible tear. "Why do wives and children seem to attract me?" he asks with chilling na vet . These poems resemble Ai's monologues of history and headline, an urgent tabloid origami that takes the lurid and the sensational and rediscovers in them the essentially tragic. In the book's second part, "The Running Man Poems," the hero is again a black criminal, one who starts out a bookish prodigy and somehow winds up conceiving of himself as an outlaw, one whose crimes are little more than spearing insects until, we are given to infer, he kills his lover with a razor and buries her in the pines. In both series, poems of secret perspective contemplate the flawed strength of men as imagined through the medium of women. Their brutal subjects and diction work extraordinarily well in opening strange, brutal hearts to the reader. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Eady's new book consists of two song cycles. The title sequence involves the imaginary black man that Susan Smith created to cover up killing her two small sons. That ugly, sad lie has given birth to a narrator with wit, personality, and unexpected wisdom. Of course, he is a figment of a white woman's imagination, a black man of white invention, and yet his is a penetrating look at race in America: "I am not the hero of this piece./ I am only a stray thought, a solution." Elsewhere in the sequence, Eady evokes the ghosts of other white creations: Uncle Tom, Uncle Ben, Jemima, and Steppin Fetchit ("the low pitched anger/ Someone mistook for stupid"). Finally, the "Confession": "There have been days I've almost/ Spilled/ From her, nearly taken a breath./ Yanked/ Myself clean." In the second sequence, the "Running Man Poems," a black family faces death and the obstacles of color, class, and caste that test them. This sequence was the basis of Eady's libretto for the musical drama of the same name, a 1999 Pulitzer finalist. With its good, thoughtful work, this volume steps forward to face challenges of its own, and it should be appreciated.--Louis McKee, Painted Bride Arts Ctr., Philadelphia Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Eady's poetry is always approachable-often written in a voice almost like speech-so he's a good poet to recommend to YAs who fear that poetry is by definition opaque or elusive. In the title selection, resonant layers of psycho- and sociological complexity make up for linguistic simplicity. The sequence is a series of monologues "spoken" by the fictional black man who Susan Smith invented and charged with the alleged abduction of her children in 1994. The truth-that Smith herself had killed her sons-came out only after the law, media, and popular imagination pounced on the idea of a black perpetrator. Smith was not the first person to capitalize on society's fear of black men and its stereotyping of them as criminals; her crime was simply the most sensational. The disempowering effect of being repeatedly summoned up by whites ensures that this black man is akin to Uncle Ben, Buckwheat, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Tom, and especially Stepin Fetchit-all of whom weigh in with their own monologues in Eady's book. The protagonist examines Smith's accusation from all angles, most powerful and some startling-as when he mentions "one good thing:/If I am alive, then so, briefly, are they," a reference to Smith's children. Smart as a whip and just as stinging, Brutal Imagination is an important addition to any collection.-Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The connection in Eady's art between music and drama, drawing on their close associations in African-American traditions, has never been more important than in this work, which comprises two distinct but related "song cycles." Although each poem stands adequately on its own, when assembled they form an even more powerful and coherent poetic narrative, the protagonist of which is the "dusky angel" invented by Susan Smith in 1995 to explain the abduction and disappearance of her two young sons. (She later confessed to leaving them in the back seat of the car she drove into a lake.) The effect is chilling. With both wit and well-directed anger, the poet invokes other mythical characters of the white imagination: Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, Buckwheat, Steppin Fetchit, the "ghost of the scripts." The second cycle of poems derives from Eady's libretto for"Running Man," presented at Here Theatre in New York in early 1999. It portrays, through family recollections, the life of a black man who ventures from the small Southern town of his birth to a Northern city. The language here is both more rhythmic and idiomatic, as when "a sinner smacked to the floor by the holy spirit" is compared to a flopping fish "scooped from a pond" (a cogent metaphor for the rural black exodus of the 1940s and 1950s). Although this may hardly seem a fit subject for poetic exploration, Eady's touch is masterly.
Read an Excerpt
Uncle Tom in Heaven
My name is mud; let's get that out
Of the way first. I am not a child.
I was made to believe that God
Kept notes, ran a tab on the blows,
So many on one cheek, so many on
I watch another black man pour from a
White woman's head. I fear
He'll live the way I did, a brute,
A flimsy ghost of an idea. Both
Of us groomed to go only so far.
That was my duty. I'm well aware
Of what I've become; a name
Children use to separate themselves
On a playground. It doesn't matter
To know I'm someone else's lie,
Anything human can slip, and that's enough
To make grown men worry about
Their accent, where their ambition might
Stray. It doesn't help anything to tell you
I was built to be a hammer,
A war cry. Like him, nobody knew me,
But in my prime, I filled the streets, worried
Into the eardrum, scared up thoughts
Of laws and guns. How I would love
Not to be dubious,
But I am a question whole races spend
Their time trying to answer. My author
Believed in God, and being denied the
Power to hate her,
I watch another black man roam the land,
Dull in his invented hide.
Copyright © 2001 by Cornelius Eady.