M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A: Poems

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"Jordan is a wizard at capturing vernacular in both conventional forms and his own invention." --Black Issues Book Review
In 1936, teenager MacNolia Cox became the first African American finalist in the National Spelling Bee Competition. Supposedly prevented from winning, the precocious child who dreamed of becoming a doctor was changed irrevocably. Her story, told in a poignant nonlinear narrative, illustrates the power of a pivotal moment in ...
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"Jordan is a wizard at capturing vernacular in both conventional forms and his own invention." --Black Issues Book Review
In 1936, teenager MacNolia Cox became the first African American finalist in the National Spelling Bee Competition. Supposedly prevented from winning, the precocious child who dreamed of becoming a doctor was changed irrevocably. Her story, told in a poignant nonlinear narrative, illustrates the power of a pivotal moment in a life.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The first African-American student to reach the final round of the National Spelling Bee, 13-year-old MacNolia Cox of Akron, Ohio, found short-lived celebrity in 1936; when she died 40 years later, the girl who "was almost/ The national spelling champ" had become a cleaning woman, a grandmother, and "the best damn maid in town." Cox's ambition and her later frustration find incisive shape in this remarkably varied meditation on ambition, racism, discouragement and ennui, where successive pages can bring to mind a handbook of poetic forms (a double sestina, Japanese-inspired syllabics, a blues ghazal and prose poems based on definitions of prepositions), Ann Carson's "TV Men" poems, Rita Dove's Thomas and Beulah and the documentary film Spellbound. Jordan (Rise) begins in Cox's later life, giving voice to her husband, John Montiere, at "The Moment Before He Asks MacNolia Out on a Date," then to MacNolia herself when in 1970 her son dies just after his return from Vietnam. As counterpoints, Jordan intersperses poems about African-Americans who won more lasting public acclaim, among them Richard Pryor, Josephine Baker and the great labor organizer and orator A. Philip Randolph. Jordan's most quotable poems, however, return to the voice of the 13-year-old speller, who "learned the word chiaroscuro/ By rolling it on my tongue// Like cotton candy the color/ Of day and night." (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
"Men/ don't need no big words to beg," Jordan (Rise) concludes one of the shortest but most powerful poems in his second collection. He's writing in the voice of MacNolia Cox, a 13-year-old Negro who won the Ohio spelling bee in 1936 and went on to compete nationally. Suddenly faced with the realization that no little girl her color will ever win, she still can't prove they cheated when "They pulled a word not on the list,/ the goddess of vengeance: Nemesis-N-e-m-e-s-i-s-I couldn't spell it, then." Prefaced by her obituary, the book picks up her life from when she first met her husband. We see the lovers, then move quickly to the broken woman cleaning houses, the broken man who can't find work. There are cameo appearances by Jesse Owens, Fats Waller, Richard Pryor, Josephine Baker, and Bojangles and quotes or mock-quotes from arts reviews and newspaper articles of the time. Multivoiced and multifaceted, the poems and prose here play on the book's premise, spelling out words and giving definitions. Unfortunately, the other voices aren't as powerful as MacNolia's and serve more as cogs to move the narrative along. Still, this book captures an important figure who has been too long obscure, and at its best the poems are both memorable and haunting.-Rochelle Ratner, formerly with Soho Weekly News, New York Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393327649
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/17/2005
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 728,445
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

A. Van Jordan is the author of Rise, M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, and Quantum Lyrics. Among other awards, he has received the Whiting Award, the Annisfield-Wolf Book Award, the PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Award, and the Pushcart Prize. A professor of English at the University of Michigan, he lives in Ann Arbor.
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Table of Contents

"Mercy, mercy, mercy" 15
In-cho-ate 21
John Montiere answer to question one 22
The moment before he asks MacNolia out on a date 23
Meeting John Montiere 25
Rant 26
From 27
Wedding night 29
Looking for work 32
Red ball express 34
In service 36
John Montiere answer to question two 38
Jesse Owens, 1963 39
Infidelity 41
When MacNolia greases my hair 43
Af.ter.glow 44
John Montiere answer to question three 45
With 46
"One bourbon, one scotch, one beer" 48
Elegy to my son 50
I'm trying 52
Dust 54
Scenes from my scrapbook 56
This life 58
The night Richard Pryor met Mudbone 60
Death letter blues ghazal 66
Unforgettable 68
English 75
To 80
Rope 82
Time reviews the Ziegfeld Follies featuring Josephine Baker, 1936 83
Morena 87
Asa Philip Randolph 89
Green pastures 92
Practice 93
Akron spelling bee, April 22, 1936 96
On stage 100
MacNolia backstage with Fats Waller and Bill Robinson at the RKO Palace Theater 104
My dream of Charon 108
Details torn from MacNolia's diary 109
National spelling bee championship montage 112
N-e-m-e-s-i-s- blues 118
In Allan Rohan Crite's school's out 119
My one white friend 120
Covering the spelling bee 121
MacNolia's dream of Shirley Temple 127
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2007

    A reviewer

    M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, about an African American spelling bee whiz-kid, is a compelling, heart-grabbing use of actual history origami-ed with the music of poetry. This collection takes the factual accounting of MacNolia Cox Montiere and orchestrates it with original imaginings and charged reveries that challenge the reader to stand and hear, to witness, the intimacies of a young bright girl on the jagged-sharp wrong-end of racial attitudes during the Depression. Van Jordan is everything a great historical fiction writer should be¿he just does it wearing the hat of a poet. Van Jordan has crafted a phenomenal work utilizing historically significant issues¿and, unfortunately, issues still front-and-center in our current times. Some will read this stunning creation and comment on How Far We've Come. Others of us will sigh with regret, mournfully acknowledging how closely¿too closely¿this story mirrors those of our nightly news, our communities, even now. Get M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A today. Kick back, maybe put on some Earl Hines, some Billie Holiday. Slip yourself in the freshly-shined shoes, the new hand-made fancy dress of MacNolia¿listen to the tip-tapping of her soles across the stage. Feel that silver-tinged hum of adrenaline? Listen to her confidence as she calls out the letters to words that (mostly) live in other people's lives. Drink in her elation, swallow her heartache. Marvel at how her disillusions with life, with the concept of fairness and equality¿mirror water-colored shades of your own, of all our own. Bear witness. She deserves that much at least. Don't we all? Van Jordan is a poet that has the power to stretch minds, to turn hearts, with his haunting portrayals. This is why I read contemporary poetry.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2011

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