I: New and Selected Poems

I: New and Selected Poems

by Toi Derricotte


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A Finalist for the 2019 National Book Award for Poetry

In Derricotte’s own words:

“How do you gain access to the
power of parts of yourself you
abhor, and make them sing
with beauty, tenderness, and compassion?
This is the record of fifty years
of victories in the reclamation
of a poet's voice.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822945666
Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
Publication date: 03/26/2019
Series: Pitt Poetry Series
Edition description: 1
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 224,962
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Toi Derricotte is the author of The Undertaker’s Daughter (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011) and four earlier collections of poetry, including Tender, winner of the 1998 Paterson Poetry Prize. Her literary memoir, The Black Notebooks (W.W. Norton), received the 1998 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Non-Fiction and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her honors include, among many others, the 2012 Paterson Poetry Prize for Sustained Literary Achievement, the 2012 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, two Pushcart Prizes and the Distinguished Pioneering of the Arts Award from the United Black Artists. Derricotte is the co-founder of Cave Canem Foundation (with Cornelius Eady), Professor Emerita at the University of Pittsburgh and a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Toi serves on Marsh Hawk Press’s Artistic Advisory Board.

Read an Excerpt

The blessed angels
How much like
angels are these tall
gladiolas in a vase on my coffee
table, as if in a bunch
whispering.  How slender
and artless, how scandalously
alive, each with its own
humors and pulse.  Each weight-
bearing stem is the stem
of a thought through which
aspires the blood-metal of stars.  Each heart
is a gift for the king.  When
I was a child, my mother and aunts
would sit in the kitchen
gossiping.  One would tip
her head toward me, “Little Ears,”
she’d warn, and the whole room
went silent.  Now, before sunrise,
what secrets I am told!—being
quieter than blossoms & near invisible.

Table of Contents

Preface to the New and Selected Poems

Speculations about "I" xvii

After all those years of fear and raging in my poems 5

After the Gwendolyn Brooks reading 8

Among school children 9

As my writing changes I think with sorrow of those who couldn't change 11

Biographia Literaria Africana 12

Blessed angels 13

Elegy for my husband 14

The enthusiast 15

The exchange 16

Gifts from the dead 17


Black woman as Magician at CVS 19

The most surprising and necessary ingredient in my mother's spaghetti sauce 19

Bad Dad 19

Glimpse 20

I count on you invisible 21

I give in to an old desire 22

The intimates

The intimates 24

On a woman who excuses herself from the table, even in restaurants, to brush her teeth 24

Homage 25

Jerry Stern's friendship 26

La fille aux cheveux de lin 27

Lauds 28

Midnight: Long Train Passing 29

My rather in old age 30

A nap 31

New Orleans palmetto bug

1 False Gods 32

2 Why the giant palmetto bugs in New Orleans run toward you when you are screaming at them to go away 33

Note 34

Pantoum for the Broken 35

The Peaches of August 36

The permission 37

The proof 40

Rereading Jerry Stern 44

Sex in old age 45

Streaming 46

Summer evening at Still Point 47

Telly redux: Sharon asks me to send a picture of little fishie Telly 48

Watching a roach give birth on You Tube, I think of Lucille Clifton meeting God 49

"What are you?" 52

The Empress of the Death House

Sleeping with mr. death 59

The story of a very broken lady 60

The mirror poems 63

The face/as it must be/of love 69

Doll poem 70

New lady godiva 72

The Grandmother Poems

The Empress of the Death House 73

The Feeding 75

The Funeral Parade 77

From a group of poems thinking about Anne Sexton on the anniversary of her death 78

Unburying the bird 80

Natural Birth

Introduction: Writing Natural Birth 85

November 88

Holy cross hospital 92

Maternity 97

10:29 98

Transition 104

Delivery 110

In knowledge of young boys 122


The Minks 125

Blackbottom 127

Christmas Eve: My Mother Dressing 128

St. Peter Claver 130

The Weakness 131

Fires in Childhood 133

High School 136

Hamtramck: The Polish Women 137

The Struggle 138

Before Making Love 139

On Stopping Late in the Afternoon for Steamed Dumplings 140

Stuck 141

Squeaky Bed 142

The Good Old Dog 143

The Promise 144

For a Man Who Speaks with Birds 146

Touching/Not Touching: My Mother 147

My Father Still Sleeping after Surgery 149

Boy at the Paterson Falls 150

Fears of the Eighth Grade 151

The Furious Boy 152

In an Urban School 153

The Polishers of Brass 154

For the Dishwasher at Boothman's 155

Plaid Pants 156

Books 157

Allen Ginsberg 158

On the Turning Up of Unidentified Black Female Corpses 160

A Note on My Son's Face 162


Preface 169

Tender 171

Exits from Elmina Castle: Cape Coast, Ghana

The Journey 173

The Tour 174

Tourists' Lunch 174

Beneath Elmina 175

Above Elmina 176

Slavery 176

Power 177

Market 178

When My Father Was Beating Mc 179

Black Boys Play the Classics 181

Brother 182

Family Secrets 183

After a Reading at a Black College 184

For Black Women Who Are Afraid 185

Passing 186

Bookstore 188

Invisible Dreams 189

Two Poems

Peripheral 193

Bird 193

1:30 A.M. 194

Dead Baby Speaks 198

The Origins of the Artist: Natalie Cole 205

From a Letter: About Snow 206

Not Forgotten 207

Grace Paley Reading 208

Clitoris 209

The Undertaker's Daughter

Preface to The Undertaker's Daughter An apology to the reader 213

Part I The Undertaker's Daughter

I am not afraid to be memoir 217

Beds 218

The undertaker's daughter 237

Sunday afternoon at Claire Carlyle's 239

Dolls 241

Mistrust of the beloved 252

Part II A Memory of the Future

I see my father after his death 255

My dad & sardines 258

The new pet 260

The Telly Cycle 261

For Telly the fish 262

Special ears 264

Another poem of a small grieving for my fish Telly 265

On the reasons I loved Telly the fish 267

Because I was good to Telly in his life, An apology to Telly the revolutionary 273

When the goddess makes love to me 275

Untitled 276

The night I stopped singing like Billie Holiday 277

When I touched her 283

A little prayer to Our Lady 284

Cherry blossoms 285

Part III The Undertaking

The exigencies of form 289

The undertaking 290

Acknowledgments 297

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