Brown Girl Dreaming: Thoughts and Impressions Pt. 6

Part V:  ready

to change



This section was shorter than the others and it really was a great way to wrap up the book.  Emotions welled up in me as I got towards the end of it.  I felt like I knew this family.  It had become mines in some unexplainable way and that is what writers do.  We give a part of ourselves freely to the world.  Something about us always stands revealed.  Like I said, each poem sparked something in its own way.

“after greenville #2”- We’ve all encountered death and we know how much it changes things.  The absence of a loved one creates such a void.  You miss their laughter, their unique habits, the time they shared with you.  All of that is no longer present…well not entirely.  A part of someone always lingers with you and never exactly goes away.

“mimosa tree”- Those of us who leave home always find our ways to keep a piece of it with us when we go.  For Woodson’s Grandmother it’s the seeds she brings with her to New York that let her keep some part of her husband and her home.  We all do it.  We all cling to something familiar when we’re away from the people and things we love.

“bubble-gum cigarettes”- Kids will be kids.  We’re all fascinated with adulthood as children.  This is why the images we present to our children of what it means to be an adult are so important.

“what’s left behind”- I think it’s true of anyone who’s around younger children in their family that you see pieces of relatives in them.  I look at my nieces and see their Mother’s feisty spirit.  Woodson’s Grandmother looks at her and sees the husband she’s lost.  I think it’s comforting to find those pieces because it reminds you that the person hasn’t really left at all.

“the stories i tell”- This poem makes me appreciate being a military brat.  I was never really subjected to sameness and never felt the pressure to tell stories about where I’ve been or what I’ve done.

“fate & faith & reasons”-  Kids have a way of asking you the profound questions and not even know they’re doing it.  They’re not bogged down in the day to day.  Their simplicity and pureness of thought is something we can all stand to draw on.

I won’t go through all the poems in this section.  I want you to have a reason to buy the book.  If you don’t buy for itself yourself then buy it for a child.  This collection of poems is truly uplifting and it is so human.  Our world is lacking in empathy and one way to cultivate that necessary emotion is by reading, by learning through the experiences of another.  Woodson displays such humanity throughout this collection.  It’s worth checking out.


Brown Girl Dreaming: Thoughts and Impressions Pt. 5

Part IV: deep


                my heart,

                i do


This section of poems is more about discovery and establishing identity than anything else.  In this section, you see young Woodson owning her ability to tell stories and challenging herself to start putting them to paper.  She starts to realize she has talent and starts to own it.  It’s probably why her writing is so powerful now.  She accepted her talent as a writer early on and cultivated it early on.  I laughed a bit when she made her first book thinking of how many times I constructed books from colored paper as a child.  She’s not only discovering who she is but her siblings are too.  Odella is the intellectual and wise beyond her years.  Hope is the explorer, tinkering with everything and somewhere in there he discovers that he can sing.  Reading these poems make me realize just how talented a family Woodson came from.

I think it’s important to see that talent within the black family.  Again and again, I will harp on why we need to see images of ourselves in the media.  Far too often, minorities are dehumanized and the perception of “less than” becomes the reality.  Black youth need to see that there are families full of talent, full of dreams and full of love.  That is certainly another element that strikes me about this section.  You see the love of the family and that gets lost when you only see the black family depicted as dysfunctional and drains on the government.

The hard lessons of life find their way into this section of poetry.  Woodson’s Uncle Robert is locked up and I can almost smell that prison he’s in as Woodson describes it.  My heart breaks for Hope as he has to face that prison and the reality of being a young black man.  As those prison guards are checking him, I can only imagine that he is coming to the understanding of what it means to be a black man in America.  Even then the prison system pipeline is in full effect in regards to the African-American community.  What I enjoy here (something I’m not sure I could ever pull off) is that Woodson doesn’t ever really give judgments.  She just describes feelings and emotions.  The conclusions I’m drawing are all of my own making and I have a feeling it’s intended to be that way.

Brown Girl Dreaming: Thoughts and Impressions Pt. 4

Part III:  followed







This section of poetry shows the strength, resiliency and adaptability of children.   I can strongly relate, as a military brat, to the feeling of moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar.  It is a feeling I had to endure many times so the early poems in this section struck a deep, emotional chord with me.  I felt the dismay of Woodson when New York didn’t live up to expectations.  But I read the poem “new york city” knowing that she would eventually adapt and become accustomed to, if not love, her new city.  It always occurs that way by my estimation.  You may hate the new place for a while, but eventually it creeps in and becomes a part of your soul.

As the poems progressed, that’s exactly what happened.  I almost thought the unfortunate tragedy of Aunt Kay would send her Mother back to the South, but I think the idea of what Southerners have about New York is a powerful one.  So many from the South perceive that city as an almost promised land.  A place where they can escape the vestiges of the South and remake themselves into something new.  I think the reverse exodus of Northerners to the South shows how true that ultimately proved to be.

You can also see the beginners of the writer that Woodson would one day become.  She’s fascinated by words and loves to make up stories.  Woodson is building a world around her and in her early years she was merely an oral storyteller.  I appreciate the fact that words and writing didn’t always come easy to her at first.  I had some of the same struggles myself early on and there is such an honesty in Woodson describing that struggle.  I think too often the perception is that writers just blew into their calling by some divine right.

Again, Woodson tackles the subject of religion with an honesty that is so breathtaking and affirming.  This was no better shown than in the poem “flag”.  Young Woodson wants very much to be a part of the world her religion denies her.  She’s not entirely solid in her faith and I laughed out loud as I imagined her classmate watching her with that judgmental eye.  Anyone who’s gone to church on any frequent basis has seen it.  The one person in the congregation who looks at you like they know every single sin you’ve committed.  I love how these poems describe specific events but hit on so many common experiences.

Brown Girl Dreaming: Thoughts and Impressions Pt. 3

Part II: the stories of south carolina run like rivers

This section of poems highlights that precarious stage of childhood that hovers between innocence and growing up.  Woodson and her siblings are still very young, but they’re having to deal with some very adult realities.  The main adult figures in this section are the grandmother, grandfather and mother.  I think any Southern black family can tell you the powerful role that grandparents play and today that role seems to be taking on even more power.  Some of that may be for the wrong reasons, but it’s hard to deny their importance.

One of the things that struck me the most about this importance is when the Woodson siblings refer to their grandfather as Daddy.  He has essentially stepped in to fill in the role of Father for these children and that seemed so powerful to me.  It speaks to why families should be close knit because it takes so many to give children a decent, normal childhood.  Woodson’s grandparents did an excellent job of providing what seemed to be normalcy for their grandchildren even as their Mother sought out a new life in New York.

This section of poetry also educated me some on the Civil Rights Movement.  Something I never really expected.  I never once thought about how blacks in the South, part of the Movement or not, were forced to travel at night to avoid being accused of being part of the Movement.  It’s a thought that never crossed my mind.  The Civil Rights Movement had ripples across every level of normal life.  In this respect, these poems showed just how far we have come in terms of race relations and just how little we’ve come at the same time.  Black people are still being followed around in stores.

On a lighter note, I really felt for the poor brother and his allergies.  It was one of the reasons I eventually left the South.  Every word she used to describe his condition took me back to pollen filled days and stuffy noses compounded by migraines.  I just wanted to reach through the poetry and time and give him a hug.

Brown Girl Dreaming: Thoughts and Impressions Pt. 2

Preface:  So I did some individual breakdowns of the poems and that was actually a lot of fun to sit there and dissect each poem individually.  But I’m a man who’s always looking for a way to switch things up.  So what I’m going to do now is to look at some poems together and draw what themes I felt like were being talked about.  Since I gave individual thoughts on ten poems, I’ll look at ten poems together.  I think that’s fair enough.

Poems I read in sequence: 

  1. Uncle Odell
  2. Good news
  3. My mother and grace
  4. Each winter
  5. Journey
  6. Greenville, south Carolina, 1963
  7. Home
  8. The cousins
  9. Night bus
  10. After Greenville #1
  11. Rivers
  12. Leaving Columbus

The latter half of this collection really talks about family and where you consider somewhere to be home.  Woodson’s Mother longs for the South and I think it’s because of the family she has there.  I can attest to how lonely it can be moving to somewhere where you don’t know anyone.  The dilemma faced by Woodson’s Mother makes me think of my own Mother.  I’ve often wondered how strong she had to be to endure moving from place to place with her Army husband.  Every couple of years, she had to pick up her life and move somewhere brand new with the only familiar faces being her children and husband.  I wonder how much the distance of being away from her family bothered her.

My point of view is that of a child so I can’t really say one way or another if it put a strain on their marriage, like it did with Woodson’s parents.  I think that speaks to the strength of their parenting skills in that our childhoods were happy enough to that we didn’t really notice those things growing up.  I’ve never even really felt the need to inquire about that now.  But I think Woodson handled the separation of her parents well.  There were no blame games played and she told the story very objectively.  I can’t help but to wonder if we’ll see some more of her own feelings as the poem collection continues.

That’s the major strength of this collection so far.  Yes, it is poetry but it is most certainly telling a story.  And it is telling that story well.

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.