Thursday, July 13, 2006

Blue Front: A Poem by Martha Collins

The Blue Front of Blue Front: A Poem by Martha Collins was a restaurant in Cairo, Illinois in 1909. Her father was a poor five year old who sold fruit on the street in front of the restaurant and was a witness to two brutal lynchings from the arching electric light stands on Commercial Avenue. A frenzied crowd of 10,000 watched the hangings and dismemberment of both a black man accused of rape and a white man accused of murder.

Collins brings her father's memories and much research together in a 78-page poem that reads quickly. In free verse, with different voices and subjects on pages, she tells of the once thriving city at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, its and the nation's racial injustice, and a legacy that led to the Civil Rights Movement. She stirs reference facts, photographic descriptions, narrations, and quotations into a poetic stew that works as a peice of local history with national implications.

Within the poem Collins describes briefly a series of postcards made to "celebrate" the lynchings. She notes that the Postal Service then wrote regulations to restrict the sending of offensive literature.

Blue Front is an interesting introduction to the unpleasant history of American injustice.

Collins, Martha. Blue Front: A Poem. Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 2006.

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