The poetry of Mari Evans is primarily directed toward African Americans, as she celebrates and explores what it means to be black. Evans uses her poetry to focus on issues that she feels strongly about, such as the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War, dealing directly with the emotions involved. Some of her poems are elegies for those who have died, but as a whole, her collections express joy and hope for the future, and a theme of love functions as an undercurrent.
Her poems shows the influence of other black poets such as Langston Hughes in language, rhythm, and subject matter. Jazz elements are present, creating rhythmic patterns that ebb and flow like music. Evans demonstrates her understanding of how the poems appear to readers through her use of alternative typography as well as how the poems sound when read aloud through her use of vernacular phrasing and alliteration.
I Am a Black Woman
I Am a Black Woman, probably Evans’s best-known volume of poetry, brings various subjects together into a unified whole that explores a sense of love and its romantic, familial, and political effects. The first section, “To These Add One: Love Withheld Restrained,” focuses on romantic love, primarily its absence. The second section deals with the emotional impact of that absence of love. The next two sections focus on familial love, mostly concerning children, and include the often anthologized “When in Rome.” The last section, “A Black Oneness, a Black Strength,” focuses on the political upheaval during the Civil Rights movement, with “The Great Civil Rights Law (A.D. 1964)” and “A Good Assassination Should Be Quiet,” which examines the killing of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Framing this collection is the title poem, “I Am a Black Woman.” By placing this poem at the beginning of the book, she prepares the reader with her strength, and by repeating it at the end of the book, she reminds the reader what that strength has brought her through. Evans shows that despite the tragedies and heartbreaks she has outlined in poems throughout the volume, she is a strong woman:
I am a black woman tall as a cypress strong beyond all definition still defying place and time and circumstance.
In I Am a Black Woman, Evans uses free verse and experiments with typography, employing unusual line breaks, indentations, and capitalization to emphasize elements of her poems.
In Nightstar, 1973-1978, Evans increasingly relies on typography to create meaning in her poems, and she reaches out more to the readers, using the word “we” to invite the reader to become part of the community she is trying to reach.
Many of the poems in Nightstar, 1973-1978 use the cadences of African American vernacular English to connect the poems to the...
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