Waiting for Sweet BettyBook - 2002
"I find myself writing poems about things I can't paint," writes Clarence Major who, for 40 years, has been viewed by critics as a "polymorphous writer who has been iconoclast, black esthetician, modernist, surrealist, postmodernist, and deconstructionist" ( World Literature Today ).
In Waiting for Sweet Betty , Major watches the world with careful longing to capture the exchanges and conflicts between person and place. Just as a painter juxtaposes colors and shapes, Major does the same with words, often writing as an outsider in foreign places. He shifts perspective away from the self, allowing words to play off one another subtly--with puns, inverted/subverted cliches, and sweet bop soundings--so that his vision might become anyone's. His subtle, conversational style, is at oncehumble, playful, humorous, and studied, and his stories can be seen as well as heard:
I ride backwards to see what I'm missing.
Big pines and big skies ride up and down and around,
Up and down and around then for a straight stretch.
A white pickup shooting along a white highway east with us.
Note I'm trying to call home but cannot.
Sky and brush and pine and salt-earth curving sharply, tilting away
--from "Train Window Going and Coming"
"Clarence Major is a master of everyday language and textual fine-tuning, showing an indebtedness to the Harlem Renaissance, to the Objectivists, and to Black Mountaineers."-- Publishers Weekly
Clarence Major was a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry for Configurations: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon). He is the author of 10 books of poetry, nine novels, a short story collection, and several books of nonfiction. He is the subject of two recent books: Clarence Major and His Art (UNC Press) and Conversations with Clarence Major (Mississippi). Major teaches American literature at the University of California at Davis.