Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Derricotte’s book was well received by the critical community. It received a Pushcart Prize, as well as an award from the Folger Shakespeare Library, and it helped the poet secure her second fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. The work confirmed Derricotte’s ability to engage in considerations of race that are both nuanced and striking. The concluding poem in Captivity, “A Note on My Son’s Face,” is a meditation on the different shades of color her son and her grandson are and her own ambivalence over her son’s dark color. The grandson is apparently lighter and welcomed as such, but the poet feels like begging the darker children who have come before for forgiveness. This is not a simple poem; Derricotte describes a picture of a lynching seen in a book and how the fear of having black skin is reinforced by such pictures. Many of her themes come together in this poem: color, identity, victimization, and shame. The last two lines of the poem are chilling: “The worst is true./ everything you did not want to know.” They are an appropriate ending for a book called Captivity, a collection of poems that explore so many subtle implications of that word.