Cottonlandia by Rebecca Black - An Essay Response to the Poetry Compilation
Thoughts on Cottonlandia
While a lot of Rebecca Black's Cottonlandia appeals to me, I'm afraid that some of its more ambitious moments make the compilation harder to follow and much less accessible. Furthermore, the structure is so ambitious that I come to expect a very significant reward for viewing all of the works as a whole rather than as separate poems. I'm not sure that I have that total greater than the sum of its parts when I finish Cottonlandia.
The poems that seem most effective to me in this book are the works which act on a very literal, descriptive level. Her narration of photographic images, for example, tended to really lead me through enticing images and thematic elements. By showing me women from certain time periods, Black was effectively showing me both a literal image of life for those people and a bigger picture of how women can take up an agenda and how people can be empowered. The few points that I see as weakest in these more literal poems are when Black steps away from the descriptive writing and begins making declarative statements or spelling out her use of symbolism. For example, instead of just using literal images of a bat trapped in a dress on a clothesline, Black will describe this scene flawlessly and then ruin it by blurting out that the whole thing looks like female genitalia (8). I feel like the poem would be much more potent if she had chosen a different method of delivery for this realization that the bat in the dress could be compared to some defining characteristics of women. I feel like the reader is being given no credit. Despite this disagreement I have with how Black generally moves through her poetic narrative, I could read through each poem and be satisfied with the individual works.
However, by the dawning of the last section of the compilation, I was getting worried about the overall structure of the book. I liked the idea of making the structure so predominant and then introducing the whole thing with a poem about circularity and the cyclical nature of discovery and progress. Then I found very potent themes about the developing roles of women and this paralleled technology. While this is carried through with the golem image from section 3, I noticed that a pattern had been broken. The book, Section 1 and Section 3 all start with a titular poem. Section 2 did not, and I can't understand why. This was a relatively irrelevant point, but it prepared me for the idea that I might be disappointed with some of the ways Black dealt with that circular, repeating structure of her compilation.
While Cottonlandia seems to excellently address the theme of progress, it never really kicks into that cycle that I was hoping for. Wheels within wheels are mentioned from the get-go and the reader is reminded of them by the structure of the book, various poems and then certain stylistic elements within the works. Then the book ends with this story of the golem which comes from the earth and returns to the earth, but I don't have any reason to think of the entire work as a cycle. I don't see why the poems are presented in such a way as to make me think of wheels when this really doesn't seem like it would repeat. The reader doesn't travel along a circle without beginning or end. Instead, the reader travels a straight line, which is interesting but not nearly as interesting as it could have been.
But I don't want to sound too mean. I read the whole thing and I really did like trekking through the words of an alumnus of Tulane University. Living in New Orleans, I saw a lot of the influences on her symbolic imagery and her love for precious detailed moments in a person's life.