Poetic Personal and Prosaic Public

I was intrigued by the form of Our Sister Killjoy. As I read, I was trying to parse through why some of the narrative was written in prose, and why some was written in poetry. Often the poetry sections delve into Sissie’s personal and private thoughts—thoughts that hover beneath the surface of her everyday interactions and conversations. For example, in poetry, she thinks about how men say they love plump women, but “How / Thin / How / Stringy / Thin” are the women they marry (47). And after this meditation, she moves into prose again with Marija saying, “It’s a plum cake” (47). This shift into dialogue following the poetry section seems to underscore the difference between Sissie’s public conversations and her private thoughts. Not all of her thoughts are in poetry, of course, but it seems that by offering these meditations in poetic form, Aidoo is highlighting the importance of these thoughts in the narrative. The prose tends to push the story forward, telling us what happens next in Sissie’s life—marking linear time; but the poetry slows us down. Sometimes, as in the previous example, only one word is written on each line, as if to make us pause to consider the weight of each word. The poetry forces us to slow down and ponder demanding philosophical questions. For example, Sissie breaks the linear narrative with poetry to say, “How then does one / Comfort her / Who weeps for / A collective loss?” (67). We then move into the kitchen as we shift into prose—another example of the way poetic personal is juxtaposed against the prosaic public. Then, Aidoo complicates this pattern with her chapter, “A Love Letter,” in which distinctions between the poetic personal and the prosaic public seem to vanish entirely. This letter is written to someone, and thus meant to be public, but at the same time it is intensely personal and in the end she decides not to mail it. I would be interested in discussing what implications you think the style and form of this book have for its critical conversations about the problems of race, double consciousness, and immigration.

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