Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry

Edited by Charles Henry Rowell. Norton, $24.95 trade paper (608p) ISBN 978-0-393-33940-6
This important if sprawling collection might be the first to give such a full and various account of its subject: African-American poets since the 1960s, and especially since the 1980s, in much of their ambitiously pluralist, confident, and energetic variety. Its 86 poets begin a bit farther back, with Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden, the polemical Black Arts Movement (Mari Evans: “I/ am a black woman/ tall as a cypress/ strong”) and the sometimes more fruitful poets who stood outside or beside it during the 1970s. Most of these pages, however, yield poets still at work now, some already famous (Rita Dove, Elizabeth Alexander, U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey, 2012 Pulitzer winner Tracy K. Smith), many still on the rise. Poems in historical personae and short meditations on black identity predominate: Rowell, the founding editor of the influential journal Callalloo, favors a line of careful, speech-based realism, though spoken-word attitudes (Patricia Smith) and harsher experiment (Dawn Lundy Martin) certainly do get in the door. Each poet’s poems are preceded by his or her own short prose excerpt or statement. Rowell’s fulsome introduction does his poets no favors, and some selections (e.g. Terrance Hayes) favor early work unduly. Yet this big book will also let almost any reader find African-American writers who should be better known.” (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/24/2012
Release date: 02/01/2013
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