Since February is Black History Month, I chose from my stack of waiting books Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson to read on our trip to visit family four hours away. This is a NYT bestseller and multi-award-winning book of free-verse poems that tell stories of a brown girl’s childhood in both the North and the South during the 1960s and 1970s, when the civil rights movement was churning. Poetry as memoir is something I have embraced since writing Poems That Come to Mind, documenting in haiku and other short poems life with my mother and others at her care home who suffered from Alzheimers. I was curious to see how this worked out with Ms. Woodson’s book.
I can see why this book has won awards. Brown Girl Dreaming, with the lovely title and pretty cover, beautifully captures the innocence of a girl discovering the sweetness and complexity of life. I felt the loving care of grandparents, heard the cricket lullaby and felt the child’s yearning to stay in the slow embrace of their South Carolina home, then the hardness of their first apartment in New York City and the grey sidewalk rain versus wet grass. A sick brother, bullies, why they will never go into Woolworths, visiting an uncle in jail, Angela Davis and raised fists. There are the worries, the losing, the questioning why, all the thoughts and feelings that elevate any memoir past just what happened and lift it into the heart and mind.
Yes, poetry can definitely be memoir! Read this book and see.
“Down south already feels like a long time ago
but the stories in my head
take me back there, set me down in Daddy’s garden
where the sun is always shining.”