Quilts, yes, but so much more

January 10, 2012

Bobz Book Reviews

A poet and an illustrator patch together history, art and spirituality in boisterous words and blooming color

What it was like to be a Black slave in the American South — the back-breaking work, the pain, the evil masters, the broken hearts and yet the joy, the inner satisfaction, the compassionate masters, the deep faith — all of it comes at readers full bore in “I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery.”

Cynthia Grady has provided the poems — themselves named for quilts and structured like the patchwork craft of the seamstress — and illustrator Michele Wood uses quilt patterns to the max to dress the poet’s stories in form and color that simply can’t be ignored.

A book just of the poetry itself would be worthy. Grady’s storytelling is teacher-like, thought-provoking as all good poetry is, and musical in the dialect of the slaves themselves.

Phrases like “the devil hisself,” “fetch a good price” and “make your skin goose up” grab your senses — and your sensitivity to what Black people went through during those pre-Emancipation Proclamation decades.

Just like a quilt, each poem incorporates three layers — intentionally, Grady explained — with spiritual, musical and sewing references. Even the shape of each poem — 10 lines of 10 syllables — mirrors the squares of quilt blocks.

Each poem is accompanied not only by one of Wood’s creative illustrations but by a paragraph or two or three of historical background that makes each two-page spread even more informative.

Looking for something different yet spiritual and substantial for Black History Month in February? This Eerdmans Book for Young Readers would fill the bill nicely. Order here from the publisher or check at your local bookstore.

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About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 42-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

View all posts by Bob Zyskowski