I would appreciate your review The Sobbing School by Joshua Bennett. Many students are studying this book, especially in light of the unrest in our country now. Any help would be very much appreciated.
Joshua Bennett's The Sobbing School explores the grief of the Black experience but also its tender, loving moments. Two important poems from the collection are "Still Life with Little Brother" and "Teacher's Aide." Bennett uses simple, everyday language to express complex interiority in emotionally moving ways.
The Sobbing School is the debut collection of poems by Joshua Bennett, a Black author with a doctorate in English from Princeton University. The title is an allusion to the Harlem Renaissance poets that Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston called the "sobbing school" for their focus on the plight of the Black Americans in the racist society of 1920s. However, in quoting Hurston's derogatory term, Bennett not only nods toward racism's history, but to the complexity of the Black experience, which while overshadowed by grief, also contain joy and complicated interiority.
Two poems from The Sobbing School that exemplify Bennett's heartfelt expression of feeling are "Still Life with Little Brother" and "Teacher's Aide."
"Still Life with Little Brother" expresses both the speaker's tender love for his little brother Levi and his fears for him. He writes in simple words, mostly of one syllable, describing ordinary moments that are infused with connectedness:
he walks in & sits on the couch & watches
TV while I’m watching TV & our shared
thereness is a prize. Sometimes he asks
about me when I’m gone
& no one else ever does that.
The everydayness is emphasized through the use of the casual ampersands (&) but the interludes between these periods of connection are emphasized by the use of enjambment, which occurs when a poetic line breaks in the middle and must be followed onto the next line or stanza to complete the thought. For example, enjambment separates and highlights the word "sometimes" in the quote above.
The poem also, however, expresses the fear that is part of the Black—but also the universal—experience:
how I fear
for him with all of my love,
how I know the world
like I know the names
of famous poets & the world
has claws, Levi
In "Teacher's Aide," the poem expresses how the outside world misunderstands the young speaker's tendency to violence, calling it a "rage problem:"
a son with a rage problem; that is, a boy
whom violence—as if rumor, fresh from out of town
—followed everywhere. Ms. Hollinger never mentioned
the more practical elements of this ongoing conflict,
that I fought the other students because I liked my blood
very much & wanted to keep all of it inside of my body
once the playground went feral
However, while noting the fear inherent in the boy's existence, the poem also expresses the joy, buttressed by beautiful imagery of a "god of gold," that the boy's father brings when he becomes the playground aide:
Now baptized in the flame
of an older man’s beauty, the war on the wise guy
was no more ...
this lovely Marine standing watch, half smile
drawing both teachers & seventh-grade girls
to him like lightning to a god of gold.
As the title of the collection suggests, these poems comprise both fear and joy, violence and tenderness, capturing the humanity and vulnerability of their subjects.
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