Brown Girl Dreaming: Impressions and Thoughts Pt. 1

Disclaimer: Stop right now if you plan on actually buying the poetry book as I do go into some details.  Or venture forward if that doesn’t bother you any.

Preface:  So I’m no poet.  I’ll tell you that right now.  I’m an English major so I most definitely admire the artwork, but I’m not capable of producing it.  And I don’t think I’m capable of critiquing it properly.  With that said, poetry is too beautiful to not be a part of R.R.A.P. so what I’m going to do is this; I’m just going to tell you what the poem makes me feel.  What places it takes me to.  What memories it pulls me.  Basically just a gush of emotion and sentiment I suppose.  But doesn’t the best poetry make you feel and long for something anyway? 

february 12, 1963

This poem just makes me think about the weight of ancestry for African-Americans.  Whenever we are born, we’re born with a burdened history right there on our shoulders.  The poem perfectly calls up the emotions of the 60s and how African-Americans almost all inevitably have ties to the South.  A place that I think still carries certain connotations when it comes to how black people are treated in that region.  It’s a wonderful first poem to start a conversation about birth and the burdens we’re born with immediately upon it.

second daughter’s

second day on earth

My God, what an awesome poem.  I have a feeling I’m going to be saying that a lot.  What strikes me about this piece is that Woodson was born in such a precarious time.  She highlights so many people dealing with the struggle and wonders if she’ll be able to live up to their works and sacrifices.  She deals with the universal questions of “who am I” and “where do I belong”.  I admit that I have often looked back on history and tried to find myself in the figures of Malcolm, Dr. King, Langston and Zora; wondering if I might somehow one day match their greatness.

a girl named jack

This poem so effortlessly captures the ease and spirit of familiar family, especially when a new life is involved.  Reading this poem made me think back to the story my Dad would always tell about when he first cut my hair, refusing to let my Aunts put barrettes in it.  The poem also made me wander back to the memory of how my niece, Sadé, was given her name.  We all sat around talking about how Dad playing Sadé’s music on road trips would put her to sleep.  Then we all got quiet and realized that was the name.  It’s those small moments you hold on to and this poem captures that.

the woodsons of ohio

In part, I’m jealous of what’s talked about in this poem.  It seems that Woodson has something that has been denied so many African-Americans as a result of slavery and that’s a family history.  There’s such a sense of pride in the poem and it’s well deserved.  I can only imagine how much I would hold on to my family history if it ran as deep as hers.  As it is, I grip tightly onto what little history we do have.  It’s a treasure I think many other groups in America just absolutely take for granted.

the ghosts of the

nelsonville house

Family pictures are such a powerful thing and I think the abundance of people pictures have now is perhaps one of the greatest boons about our digital age.  Pictures speak to you in a way that words and music can’t.  Pictures are like tiny deposits of memory and emotion.  Woodson draws on the power of pictures in this poem and how when you look at the youth of those you love, you so often find yourselves in them.  I look at my Father and see so much of my little brother.  I look at my pictures as a boy and see so much of my niece in them.   It’s an amazing, powerful thing.

it’ll  be scary


What a courageous story displayed in this poem!  Woodson doesn’t go into a great deal of detail about the story of William Woodson, but she doesn’t have to.  A black boy in the 1800s attending an all-white school is an act of courage not many today could step up to.  There’s of course the universal theme of owning what makes you different and I think resonates so well in this piece.  It makes me wonder if William Woodson influenced the mention of Ruby Bridges in february 12, 1963.

football dreams

This poem makes me think of my Father and all his stories about his days of high school football.  He was quite the player apparently and my Grandma had enough trophies to prove it.  I don’t think my Dad is one of those people who obsesses about high school, but I also don’t think high school was the pinnacle of his life.  But it was an important time for him and one I think forged him into the man he is today.  The other part of this poem makes me think about just how scary the South must have seemed for blacks in other parts of the country.  How terrifying was it to think of the South?  Almost seems the region gained a mythical quality as some dark land of death and injustice.  Though I suppose that probably wasn’t far from the truth.

other people’s memory

Memory can be such a tricky thing because you are always at the center of it and details get lost in the shuffle of time.  We remember things sometimes in a way entirely different from how they actually happened.  But I think there’s a beauty in listening to the older people in your life tell the same story and picking up on those differences.  Woodson shows that here and I can’t help but feel the strength of these people coming off the page.  With every poem, these family members become more and more real to me.

no returns

The innocence of children is so prominent in this piece.  They say the simplest things, but for us older folks it always resonates with some deep, impactful truth.  Or harsh truth or funny truth.  Kids really just give you the truth.  The brother in this poem wants to return his new baby sister.  It reminds me of my oldest niece and how she treated her new baby sister like she was a doll.  Sometimes she was a bit rough with her, but it’s amazing how fast they learn the world around them.

how to listen #1

A short poem but packed full of meaning and subtext.  It speaks to the power we have in influencing our young right from the very beginning.  We have to be conscious and mindful of everything we say around them and everything we show them.  Children are like sponges and I feel like so much of their course is set right there in those formative years.  That’s why it takes a village to raise a child because all the people in their lives must be positive, powerful influences.


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