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Poetry Review    

 

Blood Must Bear Your Name
By Sue Walker
Amherst Writers & Artists Press, 2002
ISBN: 0-941895-23-8

 

 
 

This five-part collection of poems is a splendid display of Sue Walker's wide-ranging craft.  Through her daring conceits, we hear the voices of the living and the dead, the oppressed and the oppressor, the tormented genius and the determined survivor, the doomed and the redeemed.  In voices that are by turn wise, scathing, witty, playful, and tender, these poems rise like a whirlwind on an "unwritten language of bone."   Always reflective and probing, Walker's poems invite us to enter worlds as visceral, instinctive, wise, and mystical as blood.

In part one, Walker, who was adopted by parents now "dead as Darwin," offers us the first of many windows into her own soul.  Through a series of letters addressed to an imaginary brother, whom she has named Martin, she muses about her blood father.  In spite of all her wonderings and protestations, the bottom line is heartbreaking: "Home is no place where you call father is."  And again, "A family is more than the blood in one's veins."  But there is much more of Sue Walker's world in this series.  Here are two segments from "Where I Am Already Staying" that I like very much: "After surgery, when I awoke,/ the landscape was barren and flat;/ there had been a war,/ and from my belly came cries/ like an animal makes/ lying frightened and wounded/ on its back.  I could smell/ my own blood/ . . . . Now I must learn to dwell/ in this ravaged place/ though fear lines up/ like a moviegoer to see the show./ The feature has already started;/ I don't know how it will end." 

As I see it, the two long poems that make up parts three and five demonstrate how far Walker has progressed in her craft.  Both are brilliantly executed.  In " Hammering Virgins: The Dream of Female Signs in James Dickey's (Un)Broken Hungering," she confronts the well-known poet in direct address, cleverly using his own words against him at many points.  The language alone is wonderful, but she has enhanced the aesthetic power of the poem even more by the way she has used the white space of the page to pace the narration.  Here's a sample from the first page of the poem that sets the tone of this brilliant  apostrophe: "Listen Jim . . . . You can dream and masturbate all you like/ and think Alex Portnoy was driven crazy by it,/ but no phantom woman of the mind/ can equal real hips and hot lips." 

The final long poem, "Blood Must Bear Your Name: A Letter to Billy," is a wonderful achievement in lyrical storytelling.  It's perfectly written.  In the voice of a slave hanged in 1855 for the murder of her master, Walker breathes life into an all-but-forgotten story that the reader will never forget. 

Needless to say, I love this book, and although I've never met the author, I came away from these poems feeling like I've know her for years. 

Sue Walker lives with her husband, Ron, in Mobile, Alabama, where she is professor of English and chair of the English Department at the University of South Alabama.  She has won awards for her poetry and her fiction.  She is also honored by a host of writers and readers for her tireless promotion and publication of creative writing of others.  Walker is the publisher of Negative Capability Press. 

Frederick W. Bassett
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

Frederick W. Bassett has a Ph.D. in Biblical literature from Emory University and has arranged and edited two collection of Biblical poetry both published by Paraclete Press -- Awake My Heart: Psalms for Life and Love: The Song of Songs.

2002 Southern Scribe Reviews, All Rights Reserved