Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

For Sonia Sanchez, politics and poetry have always been inextricably linked. She wrote one of her first poems about an aunt who spat in a bus driver’s face when he ordered her to leave a bus that was filling up with white people and published her first book of poetry, Homecoming, in 1969 after becoming involved with the organization of a black studies curriculum at San Francisco State College in the mid-1960’s. “One of the things which has propelled me all my life is when a principle is violated. America has violated many principles as far as black people are concerned,” Sanchez states, and the selections from her earlier volumes that are gathered in I’ve Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems are a record of her attempts to “eradicate” these violations of human rights, civil liberties, and social justice.

In discussing the origins of her work, Sanchez recalls both the racial slights (“There were simple things, like going to a house where my grandmother worked, and we were in the kitchen and heard the way she was talked to”) and the sexual contempt (“I watched white men pinch black women on their behinds”) that she recognized as a child. When the surge of inspirational energy released by the doctrines of Black Pride and Black Power swept out of the 1960’s, Sanchez found a direction, a style, and a voice for the feelings that she had been harboring since her youth. Because the dominant mode of expression for writers involved in the Black Arts movement was one of defiance mingled with rage, and because there was a sense of exhilaration and liberation produced by speaking without restraint, Sanchez’s poetry in the selections from Homecoming are informed by the confidence engendered by a new realization of the self’s possibilities. “Homecoming” asserts that the poet has “returned/ leaving behind me/ all those hide...

(The entire section is 769 words.)