Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Wreath For Emmett Till

The Wreath For Emmett Till

Bibliographic Information:

Nelson, M. (2006). A Wreath For Emmett Till. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN: 9780618397525.


Rosemary for remembrance, Shakespeare wrote.
If I could forget, believe me, I would.
Pierced by the screams of a shortened childhood.

Emmett Till's name still catches in my throat.
Mamie's one child, a boy thrown to bloat,
Mutilated boy martyr. If I could
Erase the memory of Emmett's victimhood,
The memory of monsters...That bleak thought
Tears through the patchwork drapery of dreams.

Let me gather spring flowers for a wreath:

Trillium, apple blossoms, Queen Anne's lace,
Indian pipe, bloodrot, white as moonbeams,
Like the full moon, which smiled calmly on his death,
Like his gouged eye, which watched boots kick his face.

Plot Summary:

A collection of interweaving sonnets to remember the death of Emmett Till and his martyrdom that sparked the Civil Rights Movement.

Critical Analysis:

A Wreath for Emmett Till is a collection of sonnets in which the last line of a sonnet becomes the first line of the following. The style and rhyme scheme is called Patrarchan, being named after the poet Petrarch who invented the style in the 14th century.

Though the style the sonnets were written in is old, the poem is very modern in his topic and references. This poem is about the death of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was brutally slained and mutilated for potentially whistling or being flirtatious towards a white woman in 1955.

The poem serves as a remembrance of Emmett Till, takes in to consideration the perspective of a scared boy, a mother's loss, how Emmett's mother used the incident to incite the Civil Rights Movement, how Emmett's death served as a martyrdom for the movement, then remembers other faceless victims that have suffered due to civic injustice, then aspires to inspire hope.

The poem makes a lot of references to Shakespeare, his characters such as Ophelia and wreath building traditions, Billie Holiday's song and Lewis Allen's poem Strange Fruit, 9-11 and the World Trade Center, folklore, and of course a lot of biblical references.

There is no way I could dislike this poem because the story resonates with me so deeply. I think that Nelson did a good job in not reliving the tragedy but, instead taking on past and present perspectives. I feel that with the mention of 9-11 and wreaths made of various flowers towards the end was a bit distracting for me personally. I think I understand what she was getting at; Hatred, fear, injustice, etc. are still as prevalent today as they were in 1955 and we need to continue to advocate for peace and civil rights. I just personally would not compare the victims of the 9-11 attacks to Emmett Tills death. That is all.

This is a good book to be enjoyed by all but, especially for juveniles with an interest in civil rights, or as a teaching tool when introducing the civil rights movement and Emmett Till to youth.

This memorial to the lynched teen is in the Homeric tradition of poet-as-historian. It is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme and, as such, is quite formal not only in form but in language. There are 15 poems in the cycle, the last line of one being the first line of the next, and each of the first lines makes up the entirety of the 15th. This chosen formality brings distance and reflection to readers, but also calls attention to the horrifically ugly events. The language is highly figurative in one sonnet, cruelly graphic in the next. The illustrations echo the representative nature of the poetry, using images from nature and taking advantage of the emotional quality of color. There is an introduction by the author, a page about Emmett Till, and literary and poetical footnotes to the sonnets. The artist also gives detailed reasoning behind his choices. This underpinning information makes this a full experience, eminently teachable from several aspects, including historical and literary -School Library Journal

Although written for children, I had to read the book twice to "feel" the horrible images that this book so beautifully captures. References to flower, plants, and trees are symbolic and make up the "wreath" for Emmett. Please read this book and share the experience with your children. The incident is described as the motivating force of the Civil Rights Movement. It is also a wake-up call to all those who continue to live a life of apathy and denial when it comes to standing up for the legacy of the African American struggle. -Linda Jo Smith, A Reader's Review

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