Sunday, October 27, 2013

Allison Joseph and Sonnet Sequences

By Briana Whiteside

Few poets of her generation can proclaim that they have written as many volumes of poetry as Allison Joseph. With 7 total volumes of poetry, 4 written between 2000-2013, Joseph displays a high level of productivity. Her poems reflect daily struggles such as body perception, success, jealousy in friendships, and sexuality, to name a few.

Among other features of her body of work, Joseph’s production of 34 interrelated sonnets in My Father’s Kites that focus specifically on memories of her father and his death stands out as an example of her concentrated prolific output.

Using her father as a muse, Joseph, writes about grief, relief, disappointment, and shameful memories of him. Joseph’s publication of an extended sonnet sequence corresponds to similar compositions by other poets in our dataset such as Nikky Finney’s Head Off & Split (sequence of 19 sonnets), Patricia Smith’s Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (crown of 15 sonnets,) Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard (crown of 10 sonnets), Tyehimba Jess’s Leadbelly (a crown of 7 sonnets) Marilyn Nelson’s A Wreath for Emmett Till (a crown of 15 sonnets), A. Van Jordan’s The Cineaste (crown of 44 sonnets), Elizabeth Alexander’s & Marilyn Nelson’s Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color (24 sonnets) John Murillo’s Up Jump the Boogie (a crown of 7 sonnets).

The appearances of those sonnet sequences in volumes reflect the extents to which contemporary poets utilize a historic poetic form in order to present a variety of ideas concerning African American culture and history. Allison Joseph’s My Father’s Kites serves as an entry into those aforementioned volumes and contributes to our overall view of sonnet sequences as a valued composition form.

An Introduction to 208 volumes of poetry by African American poets, 2000-2013  

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.  

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