2016 Reading: Continuum: New and Selected Poems by Mari Evans

continuumContinuum: New And Selected Poems, Revised Edition by Mari Evans

The poet and activist Mari Evans recently won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation, and I had the opportunity to meet her briefly prior to the awards dinner. A couple of weeks later I got a call from Evans, who had been given a copy of my book, What the Zhang Boys Know by the Foundation. She wanted to let me know how much she enjoyed and admired the book. I was thrilled to hear from her. What a kind and generous woman to actually read it and then let me know what she thought!

I confess that I had not heard of Evans before she received that award, but she has indeed had a distinguished career. Wanting to know more about her and her work, I picked up a copy of Continuum: New and Selected Poems. The first indication that this woman has a special talent is the announcement on the cover that the book includes a Foreword by Maya Angelou and an “Afterpoem” by Nikki Giovanni. From Angelou’s Foreword:

“Like any good People’s Poet, Evans is a sharp observer and an honest person. She sees all the people, all the time. Fortunately for us, she does not tell everything she knows. Just as fortunately for us, she is careful that all she does tell is the truth. The whole truth, the poetic truth. The truth for, about and to the people.”

Much of the book is about being black, especially being a black woman. An indicative poem is “I Am a Black Woman,” which begins:

I am a black woman
the music of my song
some sweet arpeggio of tears
is written in a minor key
and I
can be heard humming in the night
Can be heard
humming
in the night

She writes frequently about music and musicians (she’s also a musician and songwriter), about oppression, segregation, and bigotry, about Civil Rights and the Movement’s heroes and martyrs. As Angelou says in the Foreword, this is the whole truth.

For more about Evans and the Lifetime Achievement Award, watch this brief video.

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