The Power of Prefaces

After reading Lucy Terry’s Poem, “Bar Fight”, we were asked to evaluate which qualities make it both a “good” and a “bad” poem. We were not allowed to look anything up, giving us no context of the poem.

In my group, we agreed that after looking at this poem as “bad” and finding evidence as to why it was bad, it was awfully hard to look at it as “good.” We noticed that this poem could be seen as racist due to the Indians being referred to as “awful creatures” and that it is served as a nursery rhyme, which would be inappropriate considering the context of the poem.  However, we did not come up with much as to why it was a “good” poem, other than it was easy to read.

Often, in “Call and Response”, we are given a preface before our reading to give us some background knowledge of the text we are about to encounter, which is perhaps why we struggled so much with this assignment. We were forced to dig into our own background knowledge and assume what the author’s intent of the poem may be. I never realized how important a preface is and how it could manipulate the reader into thinking a certain way.  In “Call and Response”, the editors refer to “Bars Fight” as a poem, “filled with colorful visual imagery in a clear style that recounts a tragic event with rather comic irony…” Since “Call and Response provides” this as a preface to “Bars Fight”, it makes it so there is no room for any other interpretations and the poem can only be read through one lens. I understand that this is a crucial decision that editors have to make, however, I think it is important for them to realize the danger of this.

In Chimmanda Adichie’s Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”, she describes a story about this boy she knew, Fedee. Adichie’s mother always emphasized how poor Fedee’s family was, making it so that Adichie only knew one single story of his family which was poverty. It was impossible for her to see them as anything else other than poor. When she went to visit his house and saw a beautiful patterned basket, she was surprised because it did not occur to her that anybody that poor, could actually make something. Later on, Adichie found herself in a similar predicament, however, it was her roommate who had a single story of her. Her roommate felt pity for her without even knowing her and had a single story of Africa which was castrohphe. Her roommate thought there was no possibility that Africans could be similar to her.  Adichie mentions how stories are defined by how they are told, who tells them, when they are told, and how many stories are told, therefore, the “Call and Response” editors hold a lot of power on how a reader interprets a single story by the preface. Have you ever been known for a single story?

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