Sonia Sanchez has always been direct and specific about her aims as a writer. Responding to both the immediate demands of her social and historic situation and the timeless requirements of her craft, her focus has been to combine the lyric power of an accomplished writer with the impassioned political consciousness of a self-aware African American woman. One of her most effective methods has been to transform traditional poetic devices into the language patterns of the black community. The poet and publisher Haki Madhubuti has observed that Sanchez “more than any other poet has been responsible for legitimizing the use of urban Black English in written form.” To do this, Sanchez has restructured conventional English grammar, integrated “rapping with reading” by creating rhythmic structures from folk styles such as “the dozens,” worked at reproducing some of the sonic qualities of jazz and some of its improvisational aspects in terms of a theme-and-variations mode akin to the call and response of the classical African American sermon, utilized the moods of the blues, and rejected the restrictions of narrow academic definitions of poetry.

Her success in establishing a singular voice that has its roots in the culture of the black community and its foundations in the world of multicultural classical literature depends on her familiarity with and mastery of form, so there is always a reason for a particular choice. Free verse “also has discipline,” Sanchez notes, echoing T. S. Eliot: “There’s a reason for having one word on one line.” Therefore, her inventive spelling, including the addition and subtraction of letters, places emphasis on a word by interrupting the reader’s or listener’s familiar manner of comprehension. The use of standard punctuation—especially the dash, the solidus, and the ampersand—between syllables and in other...

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