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Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums. - Review - book review

African American Review , Spring, 2000 by Yoshinobu Hakutani

Sonia Sanchez. Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums. Boston: Beacon P, 1998. 133 pp.

While Sanchez is known as an activist poet, much of her poetic impulse in Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums derives from the tradition of Japanese haiku, in which a poet pays the utmost attention to the beauty inherent in nature. A great majority of Sanchez`s latest collection of poems are entitled haiku, tanka, or sonku. Reading such poems indicates that Sanchez, turning away from the moral, intellectual, social, and political problems dealt with in her other work, found in nature her latent poetic sensibility. Above all, her fine pieces of poetry show, as do classic Japanese haiku and tanka, the unity and harmony of all things, the sensibility that human beings and nature are one and inseparable. Much of Sanchez`s poetry, therefore, poignantly expresses a desire to transcend social and racial differences and a need to find union and harmony with nature.

Traditionally as well, the haiku, in its portrayal of human beings` association with nature, often conveys a kind of enlightenment, a new way of looking at humanity and nature. Some of her poems in Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums follow this tradition. In the second stanza in "Love Poem [for TuPac]," the lines "the old ones / say we don`t / die we are / just passing through into another space" suggest Sanchez`s fascination with the Buddhistic world view of reincarnation. The last line "let it go [ldots] like the wind" in this haiku,

what is done is done

what is not done is not done

let it go [ldots] like the wind.

spontaneously expresses an enlightenment achieved in Zen philosophy. Another haiku included at the end of the first section, "Naked in the Streets," also concerns the Zen-like discipline of thought:

let us be one with

the earth expelling anger

spirit unbroken.

In the middle section, "Shake Loose My Skin," Sanchez offers another Zeninspired haiku:

you are rock garden

austere in your loving

in exile from touch.

Although most of the short poems collected in Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums are stylistically influenced by the poetics of haiku as well as by the aesthetics of modernist poetry, much of Sanchez`s ideological concern is postmodern and post-colonial. Many of her poems aim at teaching African Americans to achieve subjectivity and value their heritage. Even such a haiku as

mixed with day and sun

i crouched in the earth carry

you like a dark river.

succinctly expresses what Langston Hughes conveys in "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." Moreover, the most important thematic concern is love of humanity, an act of faith that must begin with self-love. The last poem in the collection, dedicated to Gwendolyn Brooks, is a response and rejoinder to such a poem as Brooks`s "The Mother." Not only is Brooks portrayed as "a holy one," she has become a universal symbol of the mother with enduring love and humanity: "restringing her words / from city to city / so that we live and / breathe and smile and / breathe and love and / breathe her [ldots] / this Gwensister called life."

The penultimate poem in Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums is dedicated to Cornel West. In contrast to the rest of the poems, it is a prose poem like Whitman`s Song of Myself. West, a Harvard professor, is not presented as a spokesman of academia but characterized as a cultural activist like Whitman, Hughes, and Brooks, each of whom in a unique way sought to apotheosize the humanity of the land. Sanchez sees West as the foremost individual at the dawn of the twenty-first century, a spokesperson always "questioning a country that denies the sanctity, the holiness of children, people, rivers, sky, trees, earth." Sanchez urges the reader to "look at the father in him. The husband in him. The activist in him. The teacher in him. The lover in him. The truth seeker in him. The James Brown dancer in him. The reformer in him. The defender of people in him. The intellectual in him." Rather than dwelling on the racial conflict and oppression the country has suffered, Sanchez admonishes the reader to see cross-p olli nation in the various cultures brought together to the land. West is "this twenty-first-century traveler pulling us screaming against our will towards a future that will hold all of humankind in an embrace. He acknowledges us all. The poor. Blacks and whites. Asians and Native Americans. Jews and Muslims. Latinos and Africans. Gays and Lesbians."

Whether Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums is Sanchez`s best work will remain to be seen in the new millenium, but an effort to use diverse principles of aesthetics in molding her poetry has few precedents in American literature. Thematically, American poets such as Emerson, Dickinson, and Whitman were partly influenced by various cultural and religious traditions, just as Pound, Wallace Stevens, Gary Snyder, and Richard Wright at some points in their careers modeled their work on Eastern poetics. Sanchez, on the other hand, remains one of the few American poets intent on relying on cross-culturalism for both the style and the content of her poetry.

COPYRIGHT 2000 African American Review

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

Bugles & drums.

Fun For Kidz , September, 2003 by Taylor, Diana Read the full article with a Free Trial of HighBeam Research »

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