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.”
A Finalist for the 2019 National Book Award for Poetry
In her latest, i’: New and Selected Poems, Ms. Derricotte unfailingly displays a steady poetic voice, unafraid to approach matters of race, sex and child abuse in powerful modes. i is an immersion into a gripping, sometimes playful first-person point-of-view that retains its power through well-crafted lines and taut prose ... With more than 30 new poems, i isn’t just a greatest hits collection. Newer works such as 'The intimates' and 'Among school children' highlight the unswaying vision Ms. Derricotte brings to the page ... The twin rails electrifying Ms. Derricotte’s work emphasizes race and the physical abuse suffered at the hands of her father ... The writing here is gripping and stunningly reflective ... Perhaps the greatest feat is Toi Derricotte’s ability to render beauty from such difficult times. And lucky, we are, getting to sample so much of it between the covers of i.
...though the poems are deeply autobiographical and intimate, the 'I' is at times elusive, slippery ... Derricotte is a rare poet who unearths shame and looks on it with curiosity and even tenderness ... But she is not simply story-telling, reenacting her suffering—hers is the work of transformation, the kind of transformation that comes from the labor of writing and rewriting, that comes from re-seeing the past and making of it something new ... The poetry is spare except when it’s not, and yet it is always essential ... there is so much trauma in Derricotte’s work that the book could seemingly become mired. But suffering is never the point. All this poet’s work is composed with devotion to the process, to learning, to the search itself, to art and to poetry as life-changing, the poet as archeologist poring over a bone shard. Beneath the intensity of her gaze her work embodies both pain and wonder ... Derricotte’s spirit and her celebration...is forged in language, in poems that show the arc of a life lived in devotion to art, to compassion and understanding, a poet chasing the 'I'—bringing us a flood of sorrow and wonder, discomfort and joy.
Drawing from five previous books spanning over four decades, this retrospective volume unflinchingly explores the author’s complex experiences as a light-skinned black woman in America ... In raw, confessional poems, the speaker chronicles the abuse she experienced at the hands of her father, as well as the graphic, stunning and powerfully feminine experience of a natural childbirth. Derricotte’s attention lingers on places of struggle where life is at its most vibrant, urgent, and surprising...