The Stories That Sapphire Tells
"Black Wings & Blind Angels"
poems by Sapphire
Vintage Books, 1999;
In Sapphire's first book of poetry, American Dreams, she uses very violent and revealing imagery to talk about subjects like racism, sexual assault and prostitution. In Black Wings & Blind Angels some of the subject matter has remained the same, and yet from the very beginning there is a different feeling in Black Wings & Blind Angels than in American Dreams. She does not use as many poetic forms in Black Wings & Blind Angels as she did in American Dreams.
In American Dream the images were exceeding violent(while recalling an equally violent reality), here they are not as violent without losing any of the passion that make this amazing poet who she is.
She engages the reader as part of a long healing process with images that as vivid and demanding as ever. She continues to speak to issues like child sexual abuse. In "Gorillas In The Mist #11" she writes "...we sat around the fire/ drinking my baby's blood/ Drinking my baby's blood?/ Shock value?/ Nothing shocks us anymore - me, you./ We can talk about this now can't we?"
Sapphire continues to tell interesting and griping stories in her poems. "Some Different Kinda of Books" for example, is a poem about a young black woman who wants to know why it is that her class is only reading books about African Americans. This woman struggles with a dishonest, unfaithful husband who is always sickly but claims not be ill. She is later told that her husband has AIDS. "I'm fine. Yeah, I'm sure teacher./ What do I wanna do teacher?/ I just wanna read some different/ kinda books." This woman's response to what unfolds around her is sad and shockingly honest in a way that makes Sapphire's work so worth reading.
In "A Window Opens" she discusses the desire to have sex with a man and the result of child sexual abuse. "Its not the devil or my higher power, his penis," she writes. Here it is easiest to see her understanding of language as she helps the reader witness a struggle to keep old demons from preventing her to love what feels good now.
Through out this book there are points where complex ideas meet even more complex realities. Her mastery of the page makes understanding or at least witnessing this possible but not easy. There is also a sense of hopefulness that is the result of a healing process. In "Indians" for example, she writes "Native people once 100 percent of the population-combat, bows and arrows-/ become named 'Indians' in America's justified genocide - white/ but keep coming back like the Palestinians, niggers - the vanquished dream."
She has grown as an artist since the publication of American Dreams and it shows. Though she uses a smaller variety of forms than she did in American Dreams, it's written so well that this hardly matters. This collection in its entirety is essential for anyone who is looking for truth and amazing poetry.