Thursday, December 2, 2021

Sequoia Maner's "Tangle of Pathology"

One of the most extensive poems from Sequoia Maner's Little Girl Blue appears outside of the book. The book contains a QR code and web address, either of which take you to "Tangle of Pathology." The poem focuses on Dylann Roof, the young white man who killed African Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. The poem also includes Roof's parents, Amelia and Franklin Roof. 

"Tangle of Pathology," a phrase taken from Daniel Patrick Moynihan's report, is one of the most extensive contrapuntal poems I've ever read. You can read the individual sections -- Amelia, Dylann, and Franklin -- as standalone poems. Or, you can read the lines straight across the page or screen from left to right. Or, get this, you could even read the poem from right to left. It really is a tangle. In a good way. 

Black poets have produced persona verse forever it seems. Paul Laurence Dunbar. Langston Hughes. Gwendolyn Brooks. Robert Hayden. On and on. In the 21st century, the inclination to produce persona poems has been especially prevalent with dozens of African American poets producing many persona poems, even full volumes of persona poems

It's somewhat rare though for black poets to produce persona poems in the voice of white people, and certainly not specific living white people, one of whom is a convicted white supremacist murderer. Patricia Smith does have this well-known poem "Skin Head," written from the first-person perspective, but the figure in the poem is general in comparison to this specific take on Dylann Roof.

Always the poet-researcher, Maner studied aspect's of the Roof's lives, including taking a look at Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah's "A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof," which won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. 

Returning to the title, it's fascinating that Maner presents a troubled white family under this frame "tangle of pathology," given that the phrase was initially used to describe impoverished black families. What if we had more extensive looks at white families before and after these many mass shootings? Maner offers a blueprint for doing so in verse.   

The appearance of this poem on a beyond-the-book site hosted by Maner's publisher Host Publications offers a good idea of what small publishers can do to facilitate spaces for big poems. Maner's poem is too large (especially horizontally) to fit within in a small book. So she and Host Publications made really good use of an online space for presentation. I'm hoping we see more creative artistic production solutions like this. 


1 comment:

Sequoia said...

Yes. The author here (haha). I just also want to say that I chose the QR space outside of the book not only for space, but because this poem disgusted me. Why should the voice of Dylann Roof get so much room in my book? Why make him a focal point and centerpiece? Nope. I took control by relegating him to a nonspace, a poetic move akin to his incarceration and death sentence.