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Through poems and poetic prose pieces, acclaimed children's author Arnold Adoff celebrates that uniquely American form of music called the blues. In his signature “shaped speech” style, he creates a narrative of moments and joyous music, from the drums of the ancestors, the red dirt of the plantations, the current of the mighty Mississippi, and the shackles, blood, and tears of slavery. Each chop of the ax is a beat, each lash of the whip fashions another line on the musical staff. But each sound also creates the...
Through poems and poetic prose pieces, acclaimed children's author Arnold Adoff celebrates that uniquely American form of music called the blues. In his signature “shaped speech” style, he creates a narrative of moments and joyous music, from the drums of the ancestors, the red dirt of the plantations, the current of the mighty Mississippi, and the shackles, blood, and tears of slavery. Each chop of the ax is a beat, each lash of the whip fashions another line on the musical staff. But each sound also creates the chords and harmonies that preserve the ancestors and their stories, and sustain life, faith, and hope into our own times.
"In this visceral collaboration, Adoff and Christie honor the enduring legacy of blues music . . .This is a challenging, open-hearted collection with images and poems that bleed into one another, but also stand powerfully alone."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"An incandescent, important work."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Christie provides arresting and soul-stirring paintings that echo the poems here and add texture and harmony there, but Adoff’s poems are themselves things to be savored visually as well as out loud."—Booklist, starred review
Adoff creates a moving meditation on the roots of American blues. The poet explores the profound relationship between the enslavement of Africans and the music born of that brutalization: "This New World music m o v e s with shackle sounds." Recurring metaphors flow through the 60 poems, riffing on trauma and triumph.Metal, for one: the clank of chains on ships and chain gangs; a hoe striking rock; the reverberating steel of guitar strings and piano wire. Blood signifies death but also "the / r i c h / red / c h i l d / b i r t h / c o l o r / o f / j o y." Spare, spondaic lines pulse, connecting the mundane (church, cooking) with the music's transcendence. Some poems center on specific performers. The poet wryly considers Robert Johnson's alleged bargain with the devil: "We can still tell that story and smile as we sing his words. His soul is in his songs and his songs live deep on blue e a r t h." Christie's Expressionistic acrylics employ a palette of crimson, teal and brown, reserving grays for faces and hands, linking shackled slaves with sharecroppers, rocking grandmothers with juke-joint dancers. An incandescent, important work. (Poetry. 8 & up)
Posted March 3, 2011
"Chained/in rags in blood in dark death of daylight./To survive the passage across the ocean from/life to living hell to life in hell means/silent/singing/of old/songs./Behind the eyes/the fingers strum/homeland strings and memory of my history/remains as strong as steel./Always: this melody of words is journey home."
This passage, from the poem entitled "Chained," perfectly encapsulates the essence of Roots And Blues. The striking new collection of poetry by Arnold Adoff, Roots And Blues honors the ever-evolving legacy of blues music in America, expounding on its painful roots, as well as charting its tortuous course through history.
Highlighting everything from rhythmic interpretations of life to juke joints to the inimitable genius of Robert Johnson, Adoff paints a comprehensive picture of the cultural phenomenon of the blues - all through the skillful use of his signature style of shaped speech. Accompanied by the outstanding expressionistic offerings of artist R. Gregory Christie, Adoff's words literally leap off the page, reverberating throughout the mind of the reader - much the same way that the soulful chords of the blues have reverberated throughout the course of American history. A fascinating visual and audio treat, Roots And Blues is an invaluable, eye-opening guide to the living, breathing history not so easily captured in garden variety history textbooks. As such, it is all the more crucial to fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the African American experience. A bona fide instant classic, and a dynamic must-read.