Celestial Hobo Book Club: "Olio" by Tyehimba Jess
Celestial Hobo: Poetry for people who don’t usually read it. (Poetry-readers welcome, too! Teach us some stuff that we don’t know.)
This month's book club pick is Olio by Tyehimba Jess.
Part fact, part fiction, Tyehimba Jess's much anticipated second book weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War I. Olio is an effort to understand how they met, resisted, complicated, co-opted, and sometimes defeated attempts to minstrelize them.
So, while I lead this choir, I still find that
I'm being led...I'm a missionary
mending my faith in the midst of this flock...
I toil in their fields of praise. When folks see
these freedmen stand and sing, they hear their God
speak in tongues. These nine dark mouths sing shelter;
they echo a hymn's haven from slavery's weather.
Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, Winner of the 2017 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Poetry, Winner of the 2017 Book Award from the Society of Midland Authors for Poetry, 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist for poetry, 2017 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award finalist, 2017 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award finalist, Named a top poetry book of spring 2016 by Library Journal
The content of this book really is a remarkable one...Tyehimba Jess gathers the histories of the lives--untold lives of many of the African-American artists who sort of built the blues and jazz and the sound that...we consider quintessentially American. And he's written these poems as history in a variety of voices, in a chorus.
-- All Things Considered
Historical personae has long proven to be a useful protest tool against oppression, and is, for this reason, not new to African-American poetry. Olio, though, is so ambitious, so relentless in its pursuit of the antebellum realities that remade our country, with its entrance into the canon we are jolted awake by a hundred alarms, a century's racket.
-- Oxford American
Detroit native Tyehimba Jess' first book of poetry, leadbelly, was a winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. Jess, a Cave Canem and NYU Alumni, has received fellowships from the Whiting Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Illinois Arts Council, and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. Jess is also a veteran of the 2000 and 2001 Green Mill Poetry Slam Team. He exhibited his poetry at the 2011 TEDxNashville Conference. Jess is an Associate Professor of English at College of Staten Island.
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