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spacer.gif   STYLE FIVE: THE OSEI TUTU STYLE
Posted by : cj on Sunday, December 05, 2004 - 10:46 PM
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Chicago Poetry Reviews: Click Headlines .
They Shall Run—Harriet Tubman Poems
by Quraysh Ali Lansana
Third World Press
Reviewed by C. J. Laity


Granted. They Shall Run is not light reading. It can not be consumed in one sit like a box of candy. You might be able to get through the entire book in less than an hour, but if that's all the time you spend on it, you've done this kaleidoscope of points of view a grave injustice. They Shall Run is an important piece of work and it requires some special handling.

Quraysh Ali Lansana has taken his subject matter, the life of the Underground Railroad legend, very seriously, spending years researching and fine-tuning these poems, allowing himself to be possessed by the past and using the page as host for strong spirits. The resulting creation is not something chiseled out of stone, but something blown into existence by human breath, like fine glass-work, strange, but undeniably beautiful.

In the age of instant gratification, They Shall Run is a huge gamble. These are not poems that will win any slams. Many of them won't even stand alone on the page outside of the context of the book. It would have been less effort for Lansana to create another work similar to his previous collection, Southside Rain. Instead of taking that easy path, Lansana has invented something new, something he can proudly call his own. Therefore, though it is a gamble, as a book that will survive longer than the generation it was written in, They Shall Run wins the jackpot.

This is a book to be studied and to learn by. The abstract, experimental nature of creating a volume of poetry written in thick dialect, with details about the history it unfolds as murky as a reflection on muddy water, begs to challenge the reader.
truth

massus metal weight
push in ma headbone

i was round thirteen
den dem say i's dull

now i know de lord
hear me in prayer

much mo like talk tho
we's all de time talkin

when i wash my face
i says lord make me clean

when i take up de broom
lord sweep sin from my heart

when i took dat blow on de head
i pray dat chile knows free

when de blackness come
i go where God want

The lack of narrative in They Shall Run does a remarkable and important thing. It inspires research. The poetry in this book, which is unlike anything Lansana has tackled before, calls upon the reader to color in the outlines of stream of consciousness. In this way the poems are incomplete; and they can only be completed by studying the life of Harriet Tubman. In essence, Lansana has created a book of poetry that begs the reader to seek out other sources of information. The book says, put me down for a while, go read something else, and then come back to me and try again. The more knowledge one obtains about the subject matter, the greater the work becomes:
           john tubman 

faithless

I would have freed thousands mo,
If dey had known dey were slaves.
Harriet


herd on da wind you come back fo me
didn't think you come back fo me
didn't think you come back at all
been so long my skin grew tired

dis life too hard to know all alone
caroline cover me just fine
she a quilt ginst da cold in ma blood
she mend de torn spots in ma soul

aint got no mind ta leev dis place
go on moses find yo promise lan
mines is here besides dis fire
wid folks we knows from when we's born

Uncompromising in its consistency, Lansana looks through the eyes of his subjects and allows them to speak, not with a design for clarity, but with a more authentic sense of audience. These points of view range from the expected to the utterly bizarre:
don't mind showin my teeth
means i get to work
my legs and savor that hunk of meat
after i track em down

don't even see a coon
unless i'm trainin or chasin
master stick an old shirt or scrap
under by snout and i'm gone


(from "negro dog, thoughts on the matter of runaways")

or
taste

fear in
mama's milk

all day
sour


(from "lil john ross, christmas present: heir")

They Shall Run is as haunting as truth can get. It is one of the most important pieces of literature to come out of Chicago in this Millennial Age of poetry. It might be a little ahead of its time, but most great things are.

--C. J. Laity

Click here for more information about Quraysh Ali Lansana.

GO TO STYLE SIX

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Note: They Shall Run is not light reading. It can not be consumed in one sit like a box of candy.

 
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