Conjuring numerous voices and characters across oceans and centuries, Faster Than Light explores widely disparate experiences through the lens of traditional poetic forms. This volume contains a selection of Marilyn Nelson’s new and uncollected poems as well as work from each of her lyric histories of eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century African American individuals and communities, and The Cachoeira Tales, a long riff on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Poems include the stories of historical figures like Emmett Till, the fourteen-year-old boy lynched in 1955, and the inhabitants of Seneca Village, an African American community razed in 1857 for the creation of Central Park. “Bivouac in a Storm” tells the story of a group of young soldiers, later to become known as the Tuskegee Airmen, as they trained near Biloxi, Mississippi, “marching in summer heat / thick as blackstrap molasses, under trees / haunted by whippings.” Later pieces range from the poet’s travels in Africa, Europe, and Polynesia, to poems written in collaboration with Father Jacques de Foiard Brown, a former Benedictine monk who becomes the subject of Nelson’s playful fictional fantasy sequence, “Adventure-Monk!” Both personal and historical, these poems are grounded in quotidian detail but reach toward spiritual and moral truths.
Marilyn Nelson is the author of numerous books, including The Cachoeira Tales and Other Poems, The Fields of Praise, and Magnificat. Her honors include three National Book Award Finalist medals, the Frost Medal, the Poets’ Prize, and the Boston Globe/Hornbook Award.