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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Poetry in Motion

Martha Collins, the former Creative Writing program director, returned to UMass Boston on April 17 to read from her latest book, “Blue Front,” and to announce the winner and runners-up of the 2007 Academy of American Poets prize.

“Blue Front” is a book length poem of rare power, a collage of snapshots and imagined memories told in the voice of her father. At the age of 5, her father witnessed a public lynching in 1909 of an African-American man in the city of Caro, Illinois. The man in question, William “Froggy” James was accused of the rape and murder of a white woman. He was hung without a trial to great public spectacle.

Collins described the chilling event. “First, they hung him over the doubled arch downtown. When the rope broke, he fell to the ground and was shot.” Afterwards, they burned the body and hung the skull in a local park. As an afterthought, the mob also lynched a white man, although his treatment was not as brutal as that of James.

Collins did a significant amount of research to compile the book; her father was not very talkative about the incident. The poem uses the meeting point of two rivers in Caro, the Mississippi and the Ohio, as its central metaphor, with flowing but sometimes-fragmentary descriptions that try to capture the murky territory of race relations in our nation’s history.

After her reading, Collins announced the academy prize she’d been asked to judge. The Academy of American Poets is the largest organization in our country dedicated specifically to the art of poetry. The Prize recognizes outstanding work by a collegiate poet and offers a small cash prize and a year’s membership in the academy.

This year’s winner of the prize was Nathan Gamache. The honorable mentions were Paula Kolek and Ruth Meteer. Runners-up were David Johnson and Tanya Boroff.