As a form of literature, poetry is quite difficult to define and even more challenging to analyze, especially when attempting to decipher its original meaning and defining the author’s original intent. Expected to elicit an emotional response first and at the same time leaving enough place for thoughtful contemplations, poetry allows stretching the boundaries of artistic expression, as seen in Cornelius Eady’s Brutal Imagination. Exploring the complicated subject of race in modern American society, the book sends its reader on a journey through a series of poetic narratives that can be described as song cycles. Due to the selection of the controversial theme and the expansion of the problematic subject into a wider discussion of interracial relationships in the U.S., Eady makes a compelling statement about communication as the only possible solution to social injustice and discrimination.
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Brutal Imagination owes its expressivity and the ability to shed light on the issue of race in modern American society due to the choice of the narrator. The fact that the reader is fully aware of the social and cultural context in which the protagonist of the poems was created adds unique, dreamlike plasticity to each of the poems and imbues it with additional meaning. The contrast between the harsh realities of life that the narrator discusses, such as racism and discrimination, and the imaginary nature of the main character, creates a unique atmosphere that allows wandering into the discussion of complex social topics. The very first line of the poem with which the collection starts points at the mysterious and surreal origin of the main character, as well as questions the role that the narrator is going to play in the rest of the poems: “Who are you, mister?” (Eady 7). The question refers the reader to the origin of the character, specifically, the fact that it originally was a figment of Susan Smith’s imagination. Thus, the context of the narrative, which suggests delving into the difficulties of racial relationships in modern American society, is set.
The collection of novels also allows the reader to parse the meaning of literacy as a sociocultural phenomenon. After applying analytical skills that one acquires with the development of literacy, one can embrace the meaning that the presence of multiple mythical characters is supposed to convey. While not necessarily represented in each of the poems, the idea of literacy being the foundation for managing social conflicts has been rendered in several ways. The significance of literacy as the ability to interpret the meaning of messages coded in both traditional and more complex symbols is developed further as the narration progresses. For example, in “Sightings,” the presence of a blank space instead of a name in “Mr. ____” bears a much more grim meaning than it might appear at first (Eady 8-9). The line instead of a name in “Sightings” reads almost as the threat of a cultural erasure of people that are barely noticeable to the representatives of the dominant culture of the American society.
The importance of human values as the cornerstone of a functioning society is also rendered in each poem quite clearly. In the cadence of poems that Brutal Imagination represents, Eady slowly leads the reader to the discovery of injustice as one of the primary social issues that need to be managed. While the theme of injustice as one of the problems that harms the promotion of basic human values is only hinted at in the first few poems, “The Law” addresses the concern in question directly. At the very start, Eady’s character states: “I am a black man, which means/In Susan’s case/That I pour out of a shadow/At a traffic light” (Eady 16). Thus, the author condemns the absence of social justice and the failure of American society to provide every citizen with basic human rights.
The proliferation of prejudices in the context of American society has become a point of concern for many citizens, and Eady directs the reader’s attention to the problem at hand, emphasizing the importance of resolving it. At the same time, the need to work together toward the management of prejudices as a complex social issue is outlined, which leads to the rediscovery of unity as a crucial human value that needs to be sustained in the modern American social context. For example, Eady stresses the theme of isolation as the source of perpetual danger: “Then she was alone blinking in/The sight of an indifferent moon” (Eady 12). While the described scenario is expected to sound creepy, coming from a person allegedly being about to commit a crime, it also imparts the sense of loneliness and the distance between people. Indeed, in the modern world, technology may have provided additional means of keeping in touch, yet the value of unity as the sense of social support offered to each individual disregarding their race, gender, or any other characteristic seems to have been lost.
Finally, the theme of parental responsibilities are rendered in the poems in question. Specifically, the author explores family values and the importance of parental responsibility, as well as the unique connection between a parent and a child, which was tragically absent from the case that spawned the creation of the Brutal Imagination anthology. The poem titled “Why I Am Not a Woman” incorporates a wide range of social themes in it, the problem of racial discrimination and prejudices in modern society seemingly being the key one. However, as the poem continues to unfold, the issue of parental responsibilities and the value of human life, in general, is addressed directly in it. At the end of his lament for the lack of social and legal justice, Eady’s character exclaims: “The children didn’t mean a thing/To that woman” (19). The final line of the poem focuses on the problem of morality in general, as well as the deteriorating quality of bonding between people.
The inability of the woman to feel attachment to her children can be seen as the metaphor for the loss of humanity and sympathy in American society, in general. While the author does not leave the reader on this devastating note of despair and adds another poem to the anthology, the depressing feeling that the final line of the poem conveys emphasizes the problems within modern American society and urges the reader to resolve these societal concerns.
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By placing an imaginary character in the context of complex themes and using a succinct number of literary devices to convey the contradictory emotions, Eady manages to make a strong statement about the problem of interracial relationships in modern American society. The plastic, dreamlike nature of the narrative created with the help of the imaginary scenario allows addressing controversial social issues directly and naming the root cause of the contemporary problems precisely.
Eady, Cornelius. Brutal Imagination. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001.