I’ve Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems is a compilation of selections from Sonia Sanchez’s major works up to 1978. This collection offers a cross section of the themes that characterize Sonia Sanchez’s poetic vision. Sanchez’s work balances the private and the public. The private, or introspective poems, are intensely personal. The public poems cover a number of concerns. Selections from Homecoming (1969), We a BaddDDD People (1970), Love Poems (1973), A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women (1974), and Generations: Selected Poetry 1969-1985 (1986) make up I’ve Been a Woman.
Themes include issues of identity among African Americans. Sanchez’s work is characterized by her ability to offer clear-eyed commentary on African American conditions while offering poetry of destiny and self-determination. For example, one of Sanchez’s ongoing concerns is drug addiction among African Americans. In works such as Wounded in the House of a Friend (1995), she focuses this concern on the devastating effects of addiction to crack cocaine.
This intermingling of themes is found in poems such as “Summary.” This poem represents an example of Sanchez’s technique. She combines personal and public concerns. Within this poem, Sanchez does not allow the narrator to move inward and remain there. She seems to assume an introspective position as a momentary restful pose. In this energizing space, the narrator is renewed and arrives at a political solution to problems noted in the poems.
The poems included in these sections are examples of Sanchez’s virtuosity as a poet. Section 5 is devoted exclusively to Sanchez’s “Haikus/Tankas & Other Love Syllables.” Use of forms offers an example of the poet’s technique.
This collection offers an excellent example of Sanchez’s range as an artist. In the various sections of I’ve Been a Woman, the speaker of Sanchez’s poetry is revealed as a quester for identity and resolution. Distinguished from male quest epics, Sanchez’s quest focuses on the desire to embark on a quest not only for herself but also for other women as well. The knowledge that the quester seeks is assumed to be available in the person of an Earth Mother who can help the quester understand the relationship between past and present. Such a figure can also help the quester learn to have faith in the future.