George Washington Carver has completely captured by imagination, so it is fitting that I picked up a volume of poems about his life this National Poetry Month. I hardly know what to say about it. It is good–really good, in that sharp-intake-of-breath kind of way. It’s written from a multitude of perspectives, from the man hired to rescue George Washington Carver and his mother, also a slave, from their kidnappers to a white school teacher who was apparently in love with Carver (and was rumored to have committed suicide years after they parted ways) to “an Alabama Farmer” who solicits Dr. Carver’s instruction on “what maid [his] cotton grow.” One of my favorites is titled “Clay.” Here’s an excerpt:
To Carver’s eye, the muddy creek banks say
Here to be dug up, strained, and painted on,
is loveliness the poorest can afford:
azures, ochres. . . Scraps of discarded board
are landscapes. Cabins undistinguished brown
bloom like slaves freed to struggle toward self-worth.
Beauty is commonplace, as cheap as dirt.
Marilyn Nelson holds Carver’s life up to the light in this volume and shows what a multifaceted jewel it is. Reading this Newbery and Coretta Scott King honor book has made me hungry to know more about this man. Highly Recommended. (Front Street, 2001)
More about George Washington Carver at Hope Is the Word:
Tuskegee University (includes pictures of Carver’s gravesite)