Thursday, December 29, 2011

Calvin Forbes's "Talking Blues," a Favorite in 2011

One of my favorite poems from 2011 was "Talking Blues"  by Calvin Forbes, which was published in the July/August issue of Poetry. I first wrote about the poem back in June when it appeared online.

The speaker of the poem talks to and about "raccoon," a figure who has recently moved from "the country" to the city. "I saw raccoon on Lenox Avenue / Stealing milk from a baby," the speaker notes at one point. Later, the speaker goes, "Nobody in Harlem studying you raccoon / So you better go about your business."

In some ways, the poem does not have high formal "literary" style, not the kind of style or features that typically wins awards or acknowledgment; however, a few things made the poem enjoyable to me. For one, the character raccoon is a famous (or is that an infamous?) character in black folk culture. Part of what drew me to the poem has to do with my interest in African American folklore.

I also appreciated how the poem alludes to that important migration in African American history from the South to the North or from a rural area to Harlem. "Raccoon you know you too country," says the speaker of the poem at one point, "You better leave the city." So many southern and rural folks who have made moves north have found ourselves in the position of Raccoon.

Finally, I suppose the rarity of encountering a poem in Poetry, especially during this contemporary era, about a raccoon, black folk culture, and that historic African American migration also made "Talking Blues" appealing to me. 

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