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Sonia Sanchez (b. 1934)

Malcolm X (1925—1965) American political activist

John Coltrane (1926—1967) American jazz saxophonist

Billie Holiday (1915—1959) American jazz singer


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We a BaddDDD People

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Sonia Sanchez's second book of poems (Broadside Press, 1970), similar to Homecoming (1969) in experimental form and revolutionary spirit, is dedicated to “blk/wooomen: the only queens of this universe” and exemplifies the poetics of the Black Arts movement and the principles of the black aesthetic. It depicts the experiences of common black folk in courtrooms, slum bars, and on the streets, with pimps and jivers, boogalooing and loving Malcolm X. It celebrates the majestic beauty of blackness and speaks of revolution in the language of the urban black vernacular. Rhythms deriving from the jazz and blues of John Coltrane and Billie Holiday create a poetry of performance in which the audience participates vigorously in meaning-making. Experimental in style, it is antilyrical free verse, using spacing, slash marks, and typography as guides to performance.

Characterizing Sanchez as a genuine revolutionary whose “blackness” is not for sale, Dudley Randall's introduction leads into the first of three sections, “Survival Poems,” which approach survival from political and personal perspectives. Some show how “wite” practices imperil black people's survival, seducing by heroin, marijuana, and wine or by exploding dreams. Others show how blacks undermine their own survival: the “makeshift manhood” underlying sexual neediness in “for/my/father,” the willful blindness of black “puritans,” and the hypocrisy of pseudorevolutionaries whose rhetoric masks self-indulgence. Personal poems recording moments of near-hysteria, depression, and longing lead to the revolutionary vision of “indianapolis/summer,” proposing communal love as a necessary prelude to real change.

The second section, “Love/Songs/Chants,” expresses a bluesy nostalgia for memories of past good times but recognizes that such fantasies are delusive and that we need to face the real world. Poems warn “brothas & sistuhs” to stay clear of “wite highs” spelling death and exhort black men to love “blk wooooomen.” The more militant poems of the third section, “TCB-en poems,” bristle with outrage, exposing the jive talk of slick black bloods. Taking care of business means taking care of self as well as tradition. Most of all, TCB involves a strident war cry for power, alternating fierce invective and a call to arms with amusement at how “real/bad” we “bees.” Sanchez predicts a coming revolution and exhorts her readers to begin the “real work” of building nationhood. The book ends with her explosive “a coltrane/poem,” which, to the jazzy rhythms of “Brother John” and “my favorite things,” urges setting fire to capitalist millionaires and torturing promise-breaking liberals so that black people may rise and claim their place.

Critics agree that Sonia Sanchez is a revolutionary poet of undisputed integrity whose goal is to better the world, and they praise We a BaddDDD People for the originality of its forms and its singing and chanting voice. Some criticize the strident tone of the political poems, calling their message “tiresome,” their rhetoric “facile,” and find the personal poems, dealing with drug addiction and love relationships, more palatable, even more authentically revolutionary. All, however, seem to concur that Sanchez's most important contribution to African American literature and culture lies in legitimizing urban Black English, in making the language of the streets “sound” throughout the world.


Subjects: Literature

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