poetry book by Vievee Francis (Wayne State University Press)
Available: Amazon.com, Borders, Barnes and Noble, etc
review by Suzanne Sunshower
Blue-Tail Fly may be Ms. Francis’ first published collection of poetry, but she’s no novice. A well
known Detroit poet, Ms. Francis has read her works widely, and published poetry in several
respected journals, over the years.
This exquisite offering from the poetess is a collection of poems centered around the Civil War. The
title, “Blue-Tail Fly”, refers to an antebellum song now best remembered as the tune “Jimmy Crack
Corn”. The song’s lyric story is thought to be told from the viewpoint of a slave celebrating his
master’s untimely death. In the poems of Blue-Tail Fly, Ms. Francis draws from historical letters
and facts, imagining the voices of both real and composite Civil War era figures, to form narratives
– or portraits – of their lives and times. Each poem seems like the snapshot of a moment; each
poem’s subject as whole as a scene from a play or character in a novel. Using poetic license, Ms.
Francis leads her readers into the courage and fear of wartime, wherein we imagine such things as
the uncertainty of slave life; and, even, what it was like to love across color lines in a dangerous
Through Blue-Tail Fly, we meet and come to care about soldiers, drummer boys, lovers, slaves…
We learn a little more about those who followed orders, and those who gave them – either by will of
man or brute force. How wonderful it is to have this lushly drawn poetic portrait made up of such
disparate historical voices. The Civil War, in all its multi-layered complexity, comes alive in
Blue-Tail Fly. This is poetry that is not only ‘writerly’ in its execution, but meaningful and
worthwhile in its reading. Truly a triumphant first effort.