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Girl at the Window.

History, family, and place are very important to the poet, especially if he or she is an African American. Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks are among those who have recorded the truths and half-truths of the people they knew and/or encountered in going about their daily lives. This reporting of mundane history is often central to a poet's version.

Pinkie Gordon Lane, Louisiana's poet laureate, has been weaving family into her poetry for many years. Her fourth book of poetry, Girl at the Window, continues the tradition of the African American poet linking history, family, and place to the present as well as the past. As the book's title implies, Lane has a keen eye for observation as she looks through the window of the world. Consider the opening piece, "Poems to My Father": We entered the dark house that day, Papa, do you remember? The odor of gin and corn bread incongruously mixed and the lap-lap sound feet of our big German shepherd (King, we called him) his long gentle claws scraping the floor the two of us trailing like forgotten lovers and you strode like a giant swaggered with your hand in your pocket The speaker describes the house in such a way that the reader gets a sense of how it smelled and looked; even the dominant sound is recalled. Lane's employment of the pronoun we works much better than you and I would have. It seems to push the poem beyond the personal.

In "Old Photo from a Family Album, 1915," Lane continues to demonstrate her surehandedness in personal observation: This lovely young woman, with the elegant hat and dress of flowing gauze, sits in a chair (a rocker) contemplating a feather poised in two fingers of her right hand These lines demonstrate a lyrical quality often lacking in the narrative logic of much contemporary American poetry. The speaker goes on to raise a question about the photograph as she marvels at the background: With the photographer arranged this photo in a studio with the tapestried background draped like a mural? See how he catches the pensive gaze, face soft, unsmiling, full of innocence and hope The last two lines of this stanza evoke in the reader a feeling of youth, that "innocence and hope." Lane comes to a graceful closure that evolves from the photo itself, as memory works its way into the poem: The enlarged hand, fingers swollen from years of work, would no longer hold a bird's feather but a torch of light her way back to corridors of love expected, of fury diffused to a spiral of smoke, and a gown that (shroud of her life) she might have placed upon her unmarked grave The concrete image central in these lines is "The enlarged hand," which reveals to us a life history of work and struggle.

The descriptive title poem, "Girl at the Window," demonstrates Lane's ability to observe through her vision of celebration: She sits there, hand on cheek, head turned towards the open window where shadows pulsate like quivering beasts In the present tense, the speaker reveals some inner peace and indicates an immediacy within this observation. The strength of this stanza comes through in its clarity.

The thirty-seven poems that comprise Girl at the Window, though varied in subject matter, invariably allow the reader to savor and appreciate Lane's ability to employ fresh similes: "and I melted into the dark / like a stranger stalking the / shadows"; "Horizontal / this city spreads herself / like a great cat sprawled / in the sun." While the latter clause echoes T. S. Eliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in rhythm and image, Lane is precise and effective in opening her "Baton Rouge Poems."
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Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Moore, Lenard D.
Publication:African American Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1994
Words:620
Previous Article:New Essays on 'Their Eyes Were Watching God.'
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