Growing up more people knew Mari Evans than I encounter now, but then more people used to read all kinds of poetry. You can even make jokes about poetry that everyone knew. (“The boy stood on the burning deck/eating peanuts by the peck”)
They say poetry is going extinct, which is rather like hearing that the heart is being phased out of the body. If we want to do our heart a favor, then Mari Evans is heart-healthy and delicious.
This is a rare and wonderful thing, as if we could put bacon grease on green beans (as my grandmothers did) and still have it be good for you (it wasn’t) and delicious (it was). Mari Evans is delicious poetry of all styles and good for you. She experiments with all styles of poetry, so if you find a Mari Evans you do not “get” . . .consider you are the problem and reread more slowly. If you still struggle, go to the next gem and there will be (eventually) something you need to hear.
In the collection I own (Continuum, 2014 Just Us Books), she organizes her poems as they came to her or as life came to her. Some poetry collections make you dash around in the book lest you get overwhelmed with the theme of the section (“another love poem!”). Evans’ life flows through her poems and the ordering makes sense if you think of living a poetic life. One can move from a celebration of love to a reflection on the homeless to a litany. This is poetry full of strong opinions and you must pause, think, and then are free to disagree, though before you disagree, try agreeing and see how it feels.
We need many voices to hear about race in America: Langston Hughes is one, Anne Spencer another, add Mari Evans. Just as a person should hear many voices in Greek philosophy, even thinkers that you end up thinking wrong, so we need many voices on any way of being human. Before a person can choose between Washington and DuBois, one must listen to Washington and DuBois. In the same way, we need many poetic voices: as many as there are peoples!Each poet (to steal from the preface to this book by Maya Angelou) “carefully observes the people meticulously . . .” This kind of observation and report contains a truth mere data cannot express. When I read The Elders, then I am moved about lived history in a way a recitation of facts (also important) cannot do.
Understand. That is not just saying: “agree,” but it is saying to consider, feel, and think before disagreeing. Hear many voices as God does as He listens to the prayers of the whole earth. One takes a person seriously when they disagree, but only if one has taken the person seriously enough to consider their experience, their work from the posture of a student.
In any charged topic, think race in America, this is hard to do. This is why we need clear, strong, voices and many of them not just one. As we must do in any area where we want to learn, we must first become students to those like Mari Evans with something to say.
Here is a poem to consider:
The Silver Cell
I have never been contained
the prison, nor
known a chain
except those forged
O I am slave
and I am master
am at once