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Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices
     

Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices

by Walter Dean Myers
 

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These fifty-four poems, all in different voices but written by one hand, do sing. They make a joyful noise as the author honors the people-the nurses, students, soldiers, and ministers-of his beloved hometown, Harlem. Worship with Deacon Allen, who loves "a shouting church," and study with Lois Smith, who wants "a school named after me." Don't get taken by Sweet Sam

Overview

These fifty-four poems, all in different voices but written by one hand, do sing. They make a joyful noise as the author honors the people-the nurses, students, soldiers, and ministers-of his beloved hometown, Harlem. Worship with Deacon Allen, who loves "a shouting church," and study with Lois Smith, who wants "a school named after me." Don't get taken by Sweet Sam DuPree, who "conned a shark right outta his fin." And never turn your back on Delia Pierce, who claims she "ain't the kind to talk behind nobody's back" while doing precisely that-with panache. Inspired by Edgar Lee Masters's classic Spoon River Anthology, Walter Dean Myers celebrates the voices and aspirations of the residents of another American town, one that lies between two rivers on the north side of an island called Manhattan.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In nearly 60 poems, Myers (145th Street) treats readers to a tour of Harlem's past and present, its hopes and fears, through the voices of narrators young and old. Together they create a pastiche of the community's fixtures, the church ("Wake up Lazurus! Wake up Paul!/ Wake the congregation and lift their hearts"), the barber shop for men, the hairdresser for women ("My mouth is sealed, you don't even see a crack,/ 'Cause I ain't the kind to talk behind nobody's back"), rent parties (where people gathered to eat, drink and to help the host pay the rent) and Sylvia's restaurant. "Clara Brown's Testimony," parts I-IV provides a continuity through the collected impressions, as she describes her love for Harlem, through heartbreak (when she and her sister do not make the Cotton Club chorus line, she's told it's because her skin is too dark: "That was the day I learned that being black wasn't no simple thing, even in Harlem") and more often joy. Myers offers differing perspectives on milestone events such as Jackie Robinson joining the Dodgers, as well as subjects closer to home, such as young love, or a pairing of poems by a father and his drug-addict daughter. Another especially moving cluster of poems rotates among three WWII vets from the 369th Infantry, known as the "Harlem Hellfighters," one of them blinded by a Southern sheriff after the war, on their way home. And Harlem is indeed home, to all of the people who give voice to its pains and pleasures. Readers will want to visit again and again. Ages 12-up. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Myers has won numerous awards for his fiction, but he has always been a poet, and in this collection he becomes a poet of Harlem, where he grew up and heard its pulsing rhythms. Inspired by the Spoon River Anthology of Edgar Lee Masters, Myers recreates the voices of Harlem dwellers he has known—from students and poets to artists and evangelists, street vendors and veterans, nurses and party girls. The poems are loosely connected by the testimony in six parts of a fictitious Clara Brown, who adds her perspective to life in Harlem through the years ("Yes, it's done changed some, honey / And rearranged itself some / But when I was young, I danced these streets"). Of the fifty-four poems, it's impossible to pick one favorite. Readers will have to find their own, perhaps drawn to the almost unbearable poignancy of "Terry Smith, 24, Unemployed" or the rueful cadences of "Helen Sweet, 27, Party Girl." The accompanying photographs from Meyers' own collection are piercingly evocative, although he says they aren't chosen as illustrations of particular poems. One can only marvel at the image of Al Sharpton as a boy evangelist, for example, or at the jacket photo of Duke Ellington posing elegantly with two of his singers in 1938. Even the endpapers demand attention, with "George Ambrose, 33, English Teacher" (Myers' lovely tribute to Yeats), superimposed on a map of Harlem. This beautifully produced volume with its vision of a vibrant and beloved community is outstanding in every way. 2004, Holiday House, Ages all.
—Barbara L. Talcroft
VOYA
Taking a cue from Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology, Myers applies his considerable writing talent and love for Harlem to this slim collection of free-verse poetry. Loosely framed by the "testimonies" of Clara Brown, an elderly resident, fifty-two different voices portray the diversity of the Harlem residents whom Myers has known. From the alto sax player and his wailing poem-"My horn will free you / Or maybe freeze you / In some rhapsodic frieze"-to the tempted high school senior-"He spreads his nets along / The broad expanse of a smile / So brilliant I thought it was / The full moon, silver, pregnant"-each poem, each voice, is unique, powerful, and timeless in its message. Individually, the poems sing of emotion-hope, disappointment, ambition, and regret-and not Harlem, but as a collection, they provide a snapshot of Harlem and all its history, diversity, and complexity. The stunning writing is enhanced by fascinating historical black-and-white photographs from Myers's personal collection. Possibilities abound for use in the classroom; students could model their writing after individual poems, or they could create a portrait of their own community. Leisure readers unfamiliar with Harlem might need a nudge to pick up this book, but the reward is immediate and potent in the eloquent word choices and the mood that each poem creates. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Holiday House, 88p.; Glossary. Photos., Ages 11 to 18.
—Rebecca Hogue Wojahn
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-Myers's skill with characterization and voice are apparent as he models Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology (Sagebrush, 1962) to bring Harlem to life for readers. A complexity of experiences comes through vividly in the varying poetic styles, from the Deacon Macon R. Allen: "Don't give me no whispering church/Don't be mumbling nothing to my Lord/You came in crying and you going out crying/So don't be holding back the word" to 14-year-old Didi Taylor: "I'd love to live on Sugar Hill/Be as rich as I could be/Then all the folks from down the way/Would have to envy me/I'd stick my hincty pinky out/Put my hincty nose in the air/Get a hincty chauffeur to drive my car/And a white girl to do my hair." Selected black-and-white photos from different time periods accompany some of the poems, but the connection to the subjects is often slight. While there are occasional references to historical events or people, this collection can be enjoyed without knowing them. The rich and exciting text will give readers a flavor of the multiplicity of times and peoples of Harlem, and the more than 50 voices will stay with them, resurfacing as their understanding of the context develops. Use this title to supplement classroom presentations, for individual or choral recitation, or simply suggest that teens find a good chair, get comfortable, and listen to what the people have to tell them.-Nina Lindsay, Oakland Public Library, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In this Whitman-esque ode to time and the city, the "crazy quilt patterns" of Harlem are reflected in the voices of the neighborhood's "big-time people and its struggling folk," of little girls and blind old veterans, poets and mechanics, boxers and nannies, ballplayers and blues singers, laborers and jazz artists. Echoes of Cullen, Hughes, and Hurston, Baldwin, Wright, and DuBois, Marcus, Malcolm, and Martin, Booker T., Van Der Zee, and the Duke reverberate in this chorus of voices, modeled on Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology. The volume celebrates the varied music of the neighborhood-plaintive, joyful, expansive, sly, and bluesy-and photographs from the author's collection offer a superb visual complement. One of Myers's best-and that's saying a lot. Sure to be a classic. (Poetry. 12+)
From the Publisher
In nearly 60 poems, Myers (145th Street) treats readers to a tour of Harlem's past and present, its hopes and fears, through the voices of narrators young and old. Together they create a pastiche of the community's fixtures, the church ("Wake up Lazarus! Wake up Paul!/ Wake the congregation and lift their hearts"), the barber shop for men, the hairdresser for women ("My mouth is sealed, you don't even see a crack,/ 'Cause I ain't the kind to talk behind nobody's back"), rent parties (where people gathered to eat, drink and to help the host pay the rent) and Sylvia's restaurant. "Clara Brown's Testimony," parts I-IV provides a continuity through the collected impressions, as she describes her love for Harlem, through heartbreak (when she and her sister do not make the Cotton Club chorus line, she's told it's because her skin is too dark: "That was the day I learned that being black wasn't no simple thing, even in Harlem") and more often joy. Myers offers differing perspectives on milestone events such as Jackie Robinson joining the Dodgers, as well as subjects closer to home, such as young love, or a pairing of poems by a father and his drug-addict daughter. Another especially moving cluster of poems rotates among three WWII vets from the 369th Infantry, known as the "Harlem Hellfighters," one of them blinded by a Southern sheriff after the war, on their way home. And Harlem is indeed home, to all of the people who give voice to its pains and pleasures. Readers will want to visit again and again. Ages 12-up.

*Starred Review* Gr. 7-10. In the introduction, Myers writes that he was inspired by Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology, in which the people who live in a fictional town tell their stories in verse, and by his love of the Harlem community where he grew up. In each poem here, a resident of Harlem speaks in a distinctive voice, offering a story, a thought, a reflection, or a memory. The poetic forms are varied and well chosen. While some are formally expressed free-verse poems, others use the rhythm and rhyme of early blues songs or the graceful, informal cadences of conversational speech. Expressive period photos from Myers' collection accompany the text of this handsome book. Rather than illustrating specific poems, they help to create the look and feel of the time and place. Six vivid prose statements, called "Clara Brown's Testimony," appear throughout the volume and reflect different stages of her life. The rest of the pieces are poems revealing the experiences and personalities of 53 people, from student to retiree, from hairdresser to hustler, from live-in maid to street vendor-guitar player. Some of the individual poems are exceptionally strong and memorable. Collectively, they offer a colorful and warmly personal portrayal of Harlem. Whether used as a performance piece or read from cover to cover, this unusual book will be long remembered.

Starred Review. Grade 6 Up–Myers's skill with characterization and voice are apparent as he models Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology (Sagebrush, 1962) to bring Harlem to life for readers. A complexity of experiences comes through vividly in the varying poetic styles, from the Deacon Macon R. Allen: "Don't give me no whispering church/Don't be mumbling nothing to my Lord/You came in crying and you going out crying/So don't be holding back the word" to 14-year-old Didi Taylor: "I'd love to live on Sugar Hill/Be as rich as I could be/Then all the folks from down the way/Would have to envy me/I'd stick my hincty pinky out/Put my hincty nose in the air/Get a hincty chauffeur to drive my car/And a white girl to do my hair." Selected black-and-white photos from different time periods accompany some of the poems, but the connection to the subjects is often slight. While there are occasional references to historical events or people, this collection can be enjoyed without knowing them. The rich and exciting text will give readers a flavor of the multiplicity of times and peoples of Harlem, and the more than 50 voices will stay with them, resurfacing as their understanding of the context develops. Use this title to supplement classroom presentations, for individual or choral recitation, or simply suggest that teens find a good chair, get comfortable, and listen to what the people have to tell them.–Nina Lindsay, Oakland Public Library, CA

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780823418534
Publisher:
Holiday House, Inc.
Publication date:
10/28/2004
Pages:
96
Product dimensions:
5.82(w) x 9.50(h) x 0.67(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Walter Dean Myers was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia in 1937. He is one of the premier authors of books for children.

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