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 goodManzano realizes that at best, he is treated as a pet:
and good is always more powerful
I don't know
why the devil
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
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
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
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