Starting with Lucy Terry of the early 18th century and finishing with poet laureate Rita Dove, this anthology edited by Catherine Clinton captures the talent and passion of black poets. Powerful and diverse, I, Too, Sing America is a forum for voices baring their souls, speaking their minds, tracing their roots, and proclaiming their dreams.
The entire pantheon of African American poets are rolling over in their graves. Those included in this work who happen to be alive are most likely wishing death. I rarely comment on works of art, especially negative, but these over-the-top, comical, borderline disrespectful spoken renderings of some of the most well-known, well-loved and powerful poetry by African American poets drove me to the keyboard before I have even finished the book. I wanted to do it quickly before some other poor sap fell victim to these performances.
I rarely return books, either, but this one is going back. I would ask that the performers who read these works out loud, or those who directed them, to go back and listen to what they've done, and perhaps familiarize themselves on how to read poetry out loud.
The power in poetry is in the words the authors have painstakingly selected to convey meaning. The power belongs to the meter, the rhyme, the metaphors and other devices that authors have labored over for hours, days, weeks, months and sometimes years. Power is not derived from the voice that happens to be reading it out loud! There is no need for cringe-worthy shouting, elongated annunciations, and almost sobbing, slobbering phrasing. There is no reason to read Claude McKay's "White House" as if you suddenly remembered that you had to go to the bathroom while you were walking across hot coals! Did Churchill read it that way? I haven't heard him, and will go look it up, but I don't think so! Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask" needs nothing but a sober, thoughtful reading. Let the words and the art speak for themselves. And finally, there is no reason to elongate the word "soar" as if you are singing, and raise your voice to ear splitting levels. You say "soar" calmly with a little emphasis, maybe, and believe it or not, we can imagine soaring.
If I could give this book less than 1 star for performance, well, you know the rest...