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Black Voices Poetry Project

Posted on: March 29, 2021

A Wreath For Emmett Till

A Wreath for Emmett Till

by Marilyn Nelson; illustrated by Philippe Lardy

A Wreath for Emmett Till is a collection of fourteen interlinked sonnets; the last line of one becomes the first line of the next. The author creates a wreath of remembrance of suffering while celebrating life. The structure of the book is like a painting with elements interwoven and creating one large whole. Emmett Till remains the focus but it is not an isolated event: “Two hundred years I stood listening to small struggles to find food ... Two hundred years of deaths I understood.” If she could, she’d “put you in a nice, safe universe, not like this one. A universe where you’d surpass your mother’s dreams.” Despite the dream the author reminds us that it is a wreath of poems, circular, just like the evil that sparked it: “Evil multiplies to infinitude, like mirrors facing each other in hell.” In the end, the author reminds us not to fall to despair but to “bear witness to atrocity .... Orators denouncing the slavery to fear.” In the tradition of abolitionists and civil rights activists of the past and present, the author calls for us not to be indifferent, but to memorialize the history, and break the cycles.

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