My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson | SLJ Review

redstarNelson, Marilyn. My Seneca Village. 98p. Namelos. 2015. Tr $21.95. ISBN 9781608981960.mysenecavillage

Gr 5 Up –This beautifully crafted and powerful collection of poems deals with a brief period (1825–57) in New York City’s storied past. Seneca Village, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, was a thriving multiethnic community of African Americans, Irish and German immigrants, and, possibly, some Native Americans, until it was decimated by the creation of Central Park. After poring over the written accounts and census records, renowned poet Nelson sat down to imagine the lives of a number of the residents, giving voice to individuals based on the names and identifying labels. Brief paragraphs set each scene, followed by a poem in the voice of the Seneca Villager. Readers hear from a bootblack, a conjure-man, a reverend, a hairdresser, a nurse, a mariner, schoolchildren, a music teacher, tub-men hauling sewage to the river, an elderly conductor on the Underground Railroad, and abolitionist and activist Maria W. Stewart. As in any impoverished community, the hardships are palpable—babies die of misunderstood diseases, people are victimized by their starving neighbors, there’s violence and cruelty—but there is also resilience, hard-won independence, and hope for its children’s futures. In the spirit of Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology, this work touches on historical truths (footnoted throughout) but introduces a fleeting time and place through the everyday hopes and dreams of its residents. VERDICT This rich and diverse (a variety of poetic forms, including ones invented for certain speakers, are featured) piece of American literature belongs in every collection.–Luann Toth, School Library Journal

This review was published in the School Library Journal December 2015 issue.

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