A Complex Poet of Wide Range
Thylias Rebecca Brasier Moss, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1954, has been hailed by the poet Charles Simic as “a major figure in contemporary American poetry.” Part of the reason for Moss’s steadily growing reputation as a poet and for her steadily growing audience is the unusually wide range of formal styles, voices, and subject matters that make up the poems in her books. Although Moss was once considered by critics and by fellow poets such as Marilyn Hacker as primarily an angry and defiant poet whose creativity stemmed from her bitterness over the oppression of African Americans, women, and members of the working class, Moss’s poetry is by no means composed strictly of hostile statements about what Hacker called “the black truths behind white lies.” Moss’s fourth book, Rainbow Remnants in Rock Bottom Ghetto Sky, which was selected by Simic for the National Poetry Series, particularly reveals her wide emotional range. Moss’s poetry embraces love, friendship, and visionary and religious experiences, as well as the political themes found in such poems as “Lunch Counter Poem,” which reflects Moss’s memories of the struggle endured by African Americans to achieve civil rights through the protest movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Moss believes that her poetry has gained in technical control since her first book, Hosiery Seams on a Bowlegged Woman, appeared in 1983. She was not yet thirty and had only recently graduated from the University of New Hampshire’s master’s degree program in English. Her work expresses a sense of personal hopefulness and exuberance while remaining sensitive to the difficulties of maintaining this optimism as an African American living in a country with a painful history of racial conflict. Moss’s optimism about life, the sanctity she finds in everyday experiences, and her feeling for community and for continuity between familial generations stem from her often delightful and nurturing experiences as a child. Moss grew up in what literary scholar Gerri Bates has described as “a stable, working-class environment in Cleveland.” Her mother was a maid, and her father worked for a tire company. Moss’s affection for her mother caused her to dedicate her third book, the National Book Critics Circle Award nominee Pyramid of Bone, to a woman who, Moss writes, “made it to the dean’s list of preferred housekeepers; she is a maid of honor.”