Ronald L. Fair Joe Weixlmann - Essay

Joe Weixlmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ronald Fair's Rufus develops … [subtly but with impact] from the Book of the Dead. The musical Osiris, deification of life-in-death, lives in the volume's title character….

At first, Rufus's doesn't appear to be a dancin' story. His fatherless birth occurs in a Chicago hospital, in which his mother's chosen name for her child, Reginald, is taken from him by a "colorless nurse" ("who ever heard a nigger / named Reginald?"). At this, his "first injustice," he screams. But he later concedes that the name change "didn't matter," for "he was / out of time / with any name other than / nigger."… Neither wealth, nor his deadening environment, nor lynchings, nor police assassinations deter Rufus from being himself. Despite all of society's attempts to make him to "factory … stamped … specifications," he remains resolutely individual….

Eventually, the systematized world takes its revenge. Rufus is executed by the police, and his death ruled a "justifiable homicide"….

[Rufus has considerable poetic worth and] at least one of the poems, "Bleached Soul," should become a standard anthology piece; its masterful fusion of irony, folk dialect, soul lyrics, and jazz rhythms mark it as a very special work indeed. Fair is now finishing a 200-page epic poem entitled The Afro-Americans…. Watch out! The man we knew as a novelist—Many Thousand Gone (1965), Hog Butcher (1966) … is fast becoming a major Afro-American poet. (p. 4)

Joe Weixlmann, "Undertaking Some New Black Poetry: 'Rufus'," in The American Book Review (© 1979 by The American Book Review), Vol. 2, No. 1, Summer, 1979, p. 4.