The sounds of appraising moans and claps filled a dimly lit room of the Gordon-White Building as Drea Brown read aloud from her poetry book, “dear girl: a reckoning."
Brown, an African and African diaspora studies graduate student, and other professors discussed the book and the tragedies centered on African-American slave trade in a presentation held Wednesday.
Brown said the book is a compilation of her poems about the Middle Passage from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the grueling route established to transport slaves to the New World, and what it means to survive that travel. Many of her poems are inspired by the works of Phillis Wheatley, an African-American poet in the late 1700s.
“[The book] reimagines Phillis Wheatley’s forced journey through the Middle Passage,” Brown said. “Phillis is significant because she’s the first published African-American women poet. For me, what becomes really important is to look at the Middle Passage and how that actually influences her poetry, how she is a Middle Passage survivor, and what that means to be a Middle Passage survivor.”
English associate professor Helena Woodard said the book stands out due to its intensity and layout, specifically in one poem’s format.
“[This] poem is designed sort of as shape poetry,” Woodard said. “It mimics the partial shape of a slave ship or slave vessel. At the bottom, it’s my reading. It’s like the ocean waves that [crash against] and toss the bow, but also representing slaves who either jumped or committed suicide or were pushed overboard if they revolted or who died during the passage. The very structure and style and format of the poem rescues it from what has been erroneous or missing information about what slaves endured on those ships.”
Meta Jones, associate professor of African-American literature at Howard University, said Brown’s book can be relateable to today’s society in terms of racial issues.
“Let’s think about the contemporary debates about Beyoncé’s video, ‘Formation,’” Jones said. “You have all of this controversy about her sitting on top of the police car, going underwater, and people have read that as kind of anti-police … and the federal government’s unwillingness or inability to properly respond to black residents in the wake of [Hurricane Katrina]. Here in [this book], you have her dealing with another scene of water, a seen of oceanic trauma with the trans-Atlantic slave trade, through the eyes of a black girl, Phillis Wheatley.”