Friday, October 27, 2006

The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

A review of The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano
by Margarita Engle, art by Sean Qualls.

Engle uses poetry to tell the story of Manzano, born a slave in Cuba in 1797. Manzano's first owner made him call her Mama; his second owner was sadistic. He did not have any type of formal education; but due to exposure to poetry and poets and his own thirst to learn, he became a poet.

Poetry is used to tell the story from various points of view, including Manzano's masters. This is a wrenching look at slavery; Manzano endures cruelty and torture, physical and mental. Despite this, Engle has Manzano's mother say:

God is good
and good is always more powerful
than evil
I don't know
why the devil
even bothers
to fight
Manzano realizes that at best, he is treated as a pet:

Can't he tell the difference between a prince
and a poodle?

Upon being tortured:

For three days I am nowhere
I do not exist
For three more days I am somewhere
in pain

Slavery is shown to affect both slaves and slave owners; the sadistic owner, La Marquesa de Prado Ameno, grows angry at Manzano's knowledge of poetry:

Hateful boy, hateful verse
how dare he make me remember
what if feels like
to want words
musical words
to year and sigh and wish and pray
for a song
of my own!

The title says biography; and my library catalogued it as a YA biography; but I'm inclined to say it's more fiction than non-fiction, although based on the historical record. At the end of the book is a brief note on Manzano's notes and some of his own poetry.

Engle is Cuban-American; her dedication is "to censored poets everywhere and to my hundreds of cousins in Cuba;" her acknowledgements include "I will always be thankful to a generous God, my patient family, and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, for giving me the peace of mind and the physical and intellectual freedom to write about Manzano's life and his poetry." While the First Amendment does not feature in the text itself, the parallel is there: Manzano had no rights, no freedoms; even his thoughts were not his own. Yet still he managed to create, to write, to dream, and to escape.

Also reviewed by Fuse #8 (on a poetry Friday, no less!); mini biography of Manzano; Manzano's Poems Written In Slavery

Round Up:

Big A little a: maggie and milly and molly and may be e.e. cummings

Bildungsroman: Composed Among the Ruins of a Castle in North Wales by William Wordsworth

Check It Out: hist whist by e.e. cummings

Farm School: the Halloween Edition with Witches' Charm by Ben Jonson and The Hag by Robert Merrick

GottaBook: Thankful -- a Thanksgiving Poem (original by Gregory K.)

Journey Woman: Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas

The Old Coot: Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley

Scholar's Blog: To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Susan Taylor Brown: A Man Said to the Universe by Stephen Crane

What Adrienne Thinks About That: Praying Mantis by Mary Ann Hoberman

Writing And Ruminating: All Souls' Night by W.B.Yeats

Let me know in the comments if you have a Poetry Friday contribution

Edited to add:

Blue Rose Girls: Poetry selections, from zucchinis to witches

Chicken Spaghetti: The Friendly Four (review)

MotherReader: Hugging the Rock (review)

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Gic to Har by Kenneth Rexroth

And further updated:

Blog from the Windowsill: Because hate is legislated written into the primer and the testament by Walter Benton

lightingthefires: The Witches' Ride by Karla Kuskin

Shaken & Stirred: A Rough Guide by Mark Haddon

A Wrung Sponge: Building by Gwendolyn Brooks


Anonymous said...

At Blue Rose Girls reviews of two children's poetry books and an original poem by Elaine M. entitled "There Was a Witch."

Elaine Magliaro said...

P.S. From now on the Blue Rose Girls will be participating in Poetry Friday every week.

MotherReader said...

Hey, I put a book review up of Hugging the Rock. Don't argue with me, it's poetry!

Anonymous said...

Liz, I posted about "The Friendly Four" at the following:

Karen said...

The Witches' Ride by Karla Kuskin

Nancy said...

Liz, thanks for the round-up!

RM1(SS) (ret) said...

Whew. I was afraid half a dozen other people were going to think of "Little Orphant Annie" for Hallowe'en.

Thanks, Liz.