Li'L' Gal

Li'L' Gal - Paul Laurence Dunbar [These notes were made in 1984:]. When I first saw the poetry in this book, I said, with a shiver of repulsion, "Ugh! Dreadful stuff!" So why'd I buy it - for $25, no less? Because of the Margaret Armstrong binding and decorations, of course. It is in good condition. My chief objection to the contents is the phonetic[ish:] dialect in which the poems are written. Although I know that Dunbar was Black himself, that particular emphasis (Moufs mus' be a wat'rin') in addition to the rather twee photographs seems patronizing and almost cutesy. Yet, once past that barrier, I found a certain musicality, a certain ear for a refrain (many of the poems are in some sort of song form) and a fairly pithy observation of certain universal human attitudes which make Dunbar far from the worst verse-maker I've ever read. There is, too, one poem in standard English -- just goes to prove he could do it. I suppose, in a way, he was trying to be the Burns of the American negroes (as they were then called). But the trouble is the strong association between the transcription of that dialect and racist put-downs constantly wrecks any pleasure a twentieth-century reader may derive from the real poetry behind. (But I do love the binding!)