Roots and Blues: A Celebration by Arnold Adoff. Clarion Books, $17.99
If you’re a follower of Arnold Adoff’s work, you know that his poetry celebrates life and diversity and culture. This celebration of blues is no different in that it captures the ways blues has saved souls in misery and encouraged people across America to rise in joy while. Adoff’s imagery, repetition and rhythm resomate with the patterns of the music itself. Relying upon Adoff’s “signature ‘shaped speech’ style,” this poet creates a story in poems of chained slaves “in rags in blood in dark death of daylight” journeying to captive lives. He captures survival in music when he calls out, “Can you hear the ancestor words/still in echo over oceans/and centuries?”
Within this collection Adoff underscores the significance of the blues in history and the way hope is passed from generation to generation: “Working the music is like working the dirt: rows of fields/ through years each daylight hour and long nights of misty light./ From eyes to mouth to ears to fingers…”
Adoff understands that story relies upon character and place. So his poems pays homage to blues heroes Lonnie Johnson and his son Charlie Patton, Robert Johnson, W.C. Handy and Muddy Waters. His words paint scenes of juke joints, porches, the Delta and Chicago railways. Readers come away with a new understanding of hope and survival in the face of adversity because they have had the opportunity to experience bits of the blues through Adoff’s imaginative poetry. Haunting scenes painted in vibrant blue, by illustrator R. Gregory Christie, depict significant events in blues’ history and encourage readers to fill up with the sensory experience of music and story.