The Sobbing School, Joshua Bennett’s mesmerizing debut collection of poetry, presents songs for the living and the dead that destabilize and de-familiarize representations of black history and contemporary black experience. What animates these poems is a desire to assert life, and interiority, where there is said to be none. Figures as widely divergent as Bobby Brown, Martin Heidegger, and the 19th-century performance artist Henry Box Brown, as well as Bennett’s own family and childhood best friends, appear and are placed in conversation in order to show that there is always a world beyond what we are socialized to see value in, always alternative ways of thinking about relation that explode easy binaries.
March was African American history month and April is poetry month so this is both late and on time, however it is the poetry over the content that stands out for me. This is a mentor text that I can create lessons around just because of the craft of Bennett's words.
These words, the arrangement, the rhythm is best when he is talking about things that are very personal to the author. It was a great read on the plane where I had to stay focused in a claustrophobic space so I could hear the voice in my head as I read.
For example, the way the words play on each other in "Taxonomy" makes what is dead (blank paper, blinking cursor, black letters arranged just so) look life like. And yet without the capitalization, there is just fake breath, transformation, but no real inhale, just hiccups like sobbing.
as cormorant. as crow. as colon. as comma/as coma. as shadow. as shade. as show.I was almost finished with the book and still wondering why it was called The Sobbing School but the title poem on page 52 was so crafted that I lost the message and had to reread and reread. I got caught in the alliteration and could not focus on anything but how I could use this to teach breath and editing and intentionality of craft.
The Sobbing School
is where I learned to brandish the black like a club,/you know, like a blunt object, or cobalt flashes of strobe/dotting damp walls after dusk drops the dark motion/our modern world can't hold.Finally, I always wonder how to end these posts. I have more to say but don't want to say it. I continuously edit my thinking because certain ideas, like how exactly I would use something or what student by name needs to read this book are just my ideas. They should not add to or inhibit another person's reading. But somehow, I have an issue with closure, so I'm trying something new here. I just want to include the last sentence of whatever I am reading and maybe that will help. Maybe it will not, but I won't know until I try it on for size.
Expect the flood.