Mari Evans

    Contributing Editors:
    Joyce Joyce and John Reilly

    Classroom Issues and Strategies

    In her Afro-centric writing, Evans challenges readers to accept that she directs her words to African-Americans. Tone and references in the poetry make these uninvited readers feel excluded. In response, they may be dismissive.

    This must be directly confronted with some discussion of the "special orientation" of other writers. Does Robert Frost write for the descendants of Irish and Italian immigrants in the New England cities? If not directly, then does he obliquely say something to the urban citizens, to us? In addition, the appearance of vernacular speech in writing sanctioned as poetry creates a stir of interest in the question of whether or not there is an inherently acceptable language for literature.

    Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues

    Mari Evans puts a high value upon culture, which makes the language of a poem and the alleged commercialism of other poets cause for battle. In her belief that control of language can make a difference and that a poem is an act of resistance and social construction, this dissident poet calls for an exploration of the theory of culture. The valorization of culture must be associated with the black liberation movement, black political power, and the ideas of revolution advanced in those causes during the 1960s and 1970s.

    Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions

    The free verse form, reflecting a belief in the native orality of poetry and the political need to "perform" poetry in the community, helps to define the meaning of Evans's remark that poems are wholes. This poetry can be related to other performative lyrics such as the blues and popular song.

    Original Audience

    This is a fundamental issue for Evans. She has rejected the double consciousness identified by W.E.B. Du Bois in Souls of Black Folk (1913) by addressing her work to a black audience. This can be studied in class, at the risk of denaturing the poetry, by talking about it as a technique of a school of poetry and by a brief discussion of the new black aesthetic developed by Larry Neal, Amiri Baraka, Hoyt Fuller, et. al.

    Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections

    Evans may be compared with Allen Ginsberg in order to show the similarity of avant-garde positions regarding popular American culture. This places Evans in a literary, historical context that illustrates a shared purpose among authors seeking to create a new voice. She may be compared to Gwendolyn Brooks with an eye to the creation of a character. For example, looking at "We Real Cool" and "I Am a Black Woman" could lead to a useful discussion of the uses of voice to characterize.

    Questions for Reading and Discussion/ Approaches to Writing

    1. Prepare annotations for the historical references in the second stanza of "I Am a Black Woman."

    2. Look back at the poetry of Emily Dickinson and note the similarities and differences between Dickinson's "I Dwell in Possibility" and Evans's "conceptuality."

    Bibliography

    Evans's own critical writing is most illuminating. Her book Black Women Writers is an excellent source of statements.