Brutal Imagination

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Brutal Imagination is the work of a poet at the peak of his considerable powers. Its two central sections--which could be called song cycles--confront the same subject: the black man in America.

The first, which carries the book's title, deals with the vision of the black man in white imagination. Narrated largely by the black kidnapper that Susan Smith invented to cover up the killing of her two sons, the cycle displays all of Mr. Eady's range: his deft wit, inventiveness, and ...

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Brutal Imagination

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Brutal Imagination is the work of a poet at the peak of his considerable powers. Its two central sections--which could be called song cycles--confront the same subject: the black man in America.

The first, which carries the book's title, deals with the vision of the black man in white imagination. Narrated largely by the black kidnapper that Susan Smith invented to cover up the killing of her two sons, the cycle displays all of Mr. Eady's range: his deft wit, inventiveness, and skillfully targeted anger, and the way in which he combines the subtle with the charged, street idiom with elegant inversions, harsh images with the sweetly ordinary.

The second cycle, "Running Man," presents poems Mr. Eady drew on for his libretto for the music-drama of the same name, which was a l999 Pulitzer Prize finalist. Here, the focus is the black family and the barriers of color, class, and caste that tear it apart. As the Village Voice said, "It is a hymn to all the sons this country has stolen from her African- American families."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Eady's joy in language engenders our trust in the music that his art has made of love and pain."
--Publishers Weekly

"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

New Yorker
If the poet's complex, his verse is unsettlingly direct.
Village Voice
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.
Library Journal
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.
Kirkus Reviews
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399147203
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 419,375
  • Product dimensions: 5.45 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.45 (d)

Meet the Author

Formerly director of the Poetry Center at SUNY/Stony Brook, Cornelius Eady is currently distinguished writer-in-residence at the City College of New York. He has been awarded the Academy of American Poets Lamont Prize, a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to Bellagio, Italy, and fellowships from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Foundation and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. Brutal Imagination was nominated for the 2001 National Book Award for Poetry. The author of six previous volumes, he lives in New York City.
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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
The other.

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.

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Table of Contents

Brutal ImaginationBrutal Imagination

How I Got Born
My Heart
Who Am I?
My Face
Susan Smith's Police Report
Where Am I?
The Lake
The Law
Why I Am Not A Woman
One True Thing
Charles Stuart in the Hospital

Uncle Tom in Heaven
Uncle Ben Watches the Local News
Jemima's Do-Rag
Buckwheat's Lament
Stepin Fetchit Reads the Paper

The Unsigned Confessions of Mr. Zero
What I'm Made Of
What the Sheriff Suspects
Next of Kin
What Is Known About the Abductor
My Eyes
What Isn't Known About the Abductor
Press Conference


The Running Man Poems:
When He Left
Hold the Line
The Train
Miss Look's Dream
Baby Sister & the Radio
My Sister Makes Me Up While I Sleep
First Crimes
What I Do
What Happened
Running Man

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2013


    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2012


    I know. Nxon almost has.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2012


    He might get asked by smeie else so do it real son

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2003


    Outstanding! February 4, 2003 This collection is made up of two cycles of poems, both dealing with the black man in white America. The first is a cycle of poems narrated by the Imaginary black man Susan Smith invented to cover the killing of her two children. This collection is deep! It's so moving and so vivid it leaves you angry and pulls the heart strings.Eady paints such a picture you can see the tail lights slowly slipping into the water. The second cycle is about a black family and the barriers of color. I had the pleasure of listening to Eady read from this collection as well as his work in progress. He is very moving. And like he said' The best thing about this is....there is no black man on death row right now for murder because of the imaginary black man she created'. This is more than a collection of poetry. Brutal Imagination is the brilliant, stunning creation from one gifted writer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2001

    A highly original work of art that has great promise

    Cornelius Eady's latest collection of poems, Brutal Imagination is quite the fascinating depiction of 'black and white' mentality blended together effortlessly on the strength of Susan Smith's murdering of her children, to later blame her 'brutal' action on a black man. A black man summoned from the depths of her 'imagination.' Not only does Mr. Eady show us the constant paranoia a black man envisions on the streets of America, but also the incredible lack of respect many whites have for blacks when faced with immeasurable odds. And this is only the first half of the book. This compilation is one for the ages and must not go unread unless you're the one with a 'brutal imagination.'

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