Derricotte ( Natural Birth ) smoothly blends personal history, invention and reportage in her focus on the black female experience as a springboard for a broader examination of subjugation. Her unusual narrative prowess distinguishes the less formal, autobiographical first sections; ``Blackbottom,'' for example, describes family trips taken in childhood to neighborhoods that represent the speaker's own narrow escape--``black middle class, / we snickered, and were proud; / the louder the streets, the prouder''--and where throaty-voiced women can be overheard saying, ``I love to see a funeral, then I know it ain't mine.'' Style and structure grow more complex as Derricotte extends her discussion to other figures--children in ghetto schools, a nun tried but acquitted of killing her newborn baby. When she leaves the political, however, her poetry dulls; for instance, she finds that books ``exhaust / you, like convicts / or madmen / too eager to talk.'' (Dec.)
Toi Derricotte is the author of five poetry collections: The Empress of the Death House; Natural Birth; Captivity; Tender, winner of the Paterson Poetry Prize, and The Undertaker's Daughter. She is the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, among other honors. Derricotte is cofounder of Cave Canem and professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.