irrepressibly bronze, beautiful and mine Analysis

Ntozake Shange

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Ridin’ the Moon in Texas, the collection of poems containing “irrepressibly bronze, beautiful and mine,” responds to particular works of art. The artwork to which “irrepressibly bronze” specifically responds is an untitled photograph of a man’s back by acclaimed and controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The poem, occupying four and one-half pages, is not an extended description of the photograph; rather, it is a poem on a topic—black men—inspired by it.

The poem is divided into three sections, all written in free verse. The first section, written in the first person, itself seems to break up into two parts. The first part provides a history of the speaker’s sexual awakening. It begins with a childhood crush on a friend of her father who used to arrive in St. Louis each summer with different white women. The speaker thought of this man as hers because he was black, as she is. This memory triggers another, of laughing and playing with young boys who would grow up into black men “if they lived so long.” She remembers the sexual excitement and mild sense of danger of dancing with black men as a young woman.

This leads into a part of the poem, written in the present tense—a portion that reads like a seduction. “Look at me pretty niggah,” she says, and “bring it on baby.” The language in this part of the poem is explicitly sensuous, clearly sexual, and full of images of “holding your heart” and...

(The entire section is 590 words.)

irrepressibly bronze, beautiful and mine Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Ntozake Shange is perhaps best known as a playwright who infuses her plays with poetry. It should come as no surprise, then, that her poetry has its own theatricality; that is, it is poetry which is best read aloud.

In “irrepressibly bronze, beautiful and mine,” she does not use standard punctuation. The only punctuation she allows herself is a slash mark (/), which she uses to indicate a slight pause but not specifically to replace other forms of punctuation. These slash marks can be seen as analogous to the marks of a conductor’s sheet that indicate the pace of the music. The effect is that some of Shange’s lines of poetry seem to contain several lines within them.

The shift in person the poem undergoes, from first-person singular in section 1 to first-person plural in section 2 to third person in section 3, indicates a similar shift in the perspective of the poem. In the first section, Shange speaks from the point of view of a woman recalling her own sexual awakening and excitement with black men. Thus, the tone is personal. In section 2, she remembers the struggles and deaths that black men have faced in her lifetime. The identification of the man about whom she was specifically speaking in section 1 as George Jackson should not be taken too literally. Rather, she is painting a collective picture of the black man: The black man is Jackson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Wilson, and many others. Thus, she speaks in a plural voice. The third section tries to put the erotic excitement of young black men and women in perspective. Following the descriptions of men who have had to struggle for life, this section looks approvingly on young men and women taking pleasure in life. The metaphors she uses in this section—of tongues wrapping around each other, of “dew like honey” slipping from lips, and of jaguars prowling when eyes meet—makes it clear not only that making love is a life-affirming act but also that it is an act that can productively express the ferocity of the lives of black youths.

irrepressibly bronze, beautiful and mine Bibliography

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Christ, Carol P. Diving Deep and Surfacing: Women Writers on Spiritual Quest. Boston: Beacon Press, 1980.

Effiong, Philip U. In Search of a Model for African-American Drama: A Study of Selected Plays by Lorraine Hansberry, Amiri Baraka, and Ntozake Shange. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2000.

Flowers, Sandra Hollin. “’Colored Girls’: Textbook for the Eighties.” Black American Literature Forum 15 (Summer, 1981): 51-54.

Lester, Neal A. Ntozake Shange: A Critical Study of the Plays. New York: Garland, 1995.

Mullen, Harryette. “’Artistic Expression Was Flowering Everywhere’: Alison Mills and Ntozake Shange, Black Bohemian Feminists in the 1970s.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 4 (2004): 205-235.

Olaniyan, Tejumola. Scars of Conquest/Masks of Resistance: The Invention of Cultural Identities in African, African-American, and Caribbean Drama. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Palmeri, Jason. “A Laying On of Discourses: The Rhetoric(s) of Subjectivity in Shange’s for colored girls.” Text & Presentation: The Journal of the Comparative Drama Conference 24 (April, 2003): 115-125.

Richards, S. L. “Conflicting Impulses in the Plays of Ntozake Shange.” Black American Literature Forum 17 (Summer, 1983): 73-78.

Rushing, A. B. “For Colored Girls, Suicide or Struggle.” The Massachusetts Review 22 (Autumn, 1981): 539-550.

Shange, Ntozake. “From Memory to the Imagination.” In The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work, edited by Marie Arana. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003.

Squier, Susan Merrill, ed. Women Writers and the City: Essays in Feminist Literary Criticism. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984.

Timpane, John. “’The Poetry of a Moment’: Politics and the Open Form in the Drama of Ntozake Shange.” Studies in American Drama, 1945-Present 4 (1989): 91-101.