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Brutal Imagination

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  491 ratings  ·  53 reviews
Finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry

Brutal Imagination is the work of a poet at the peak of his considerable powers, confronting a crucial subject: the black man in America.

"A hymn to all the sons this country has stolen from her African-American families."--The Village Voice
This poetry collection explores the vision of the black man in white imagination, as
Paperback, 108 pages
Published January 15th 2001 by G.P. Putnam's Sons (first published 2001)
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Average rating 4.32  · 
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Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found this book on my office bookshelf and read it while waiting for my computer to update, so I didn't know anything about it going in. Although this was written in 2001, I had to access my 1994 pop news brain file for a proper reading. The book has 2 very distinct sections which highlight the voices of 2 separate black men that the author creates through his "brutal imagination". Both stories are written in verse.

The first story is written with the voice of the eventually-found-to-be-fictit
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an absolutely incredible collection of poetry that centers on the experience of being a black male in white America. The first section - titled the same as the overall collection, Brutal Imagination - is written from the perspective of the black male that Susan Smith, a white woman who murdered her two children, made up to lay the blame on. The poems within this section are so intricate and breathtaking. I also enjoyed the second section, Running Man.
Amanda Coppedge
Apr 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2014
Cornelius Eady was a huge influence on me--he did a poetry workshop at my elementary school when I was very young and he has loomed large in my mind ever since.

This book includes two collections of poems which each narrate a story. "Brutal Imagination" is from the point of view of the fictional black man invented by a white woman who blamed him for drowning her children. "Running Man" is a series of family recollections post-death as they speculate, justify, mourn and try to understand who thei
Aug 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: yea, poetry
holy shit. an incredible premise written beautifully. will be thinking about these poems for months.
Candice Snow
Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
First impression upon finishing this collection is how much I admire the use of both complex and entirely common language to evoke tone and overall message. That's not easy to do, but I feel like Eady has mastered it. The best poetry has something new for you each and every time you return to it, and I'm excited to return to this at a later date to see if I gain anything new from a re-read.

This collection is broken up into two separate chunks:

The first part is dedicated to poems about imaginary
Jun 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wow, this was tough and good. Its two poem cycles, the first one is the thoughts of an imaginary black man whom a white woman blamed when she killed her kids. As such, it lets you into the many ways in which the other and the black man is a scapegoat and all the fears put on him and how that feels to him (as they are undeserved).

The second cycle is Running Man about a smart kid who becomes a killer.

These are intense but also readable. These poems let us enter into a fuller world ... the one we
Apr 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
The first section of the book is wonderfully written and very in-depth. The combination of criminology with the art of perspective in the poetry was incredible to read. However, the selection of poems to portray a portion of Running Man didn’t explain enough of the story in my opinion. I understand that he still wants you to enjoy that on its own, but I feel as though the selection could have made a bit more sense. Overall a wonderful book and poet.
Jan 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommended to rosalind by: CWO
this has moments of genius, but every. single. line is capitalized irregardless of whether the sentence is over which is just a huge pet peeve of mine? also i feel like the last section really needs some context bc it was a play suddenly but like, without any setting or characters. first half was great, though.
Jul 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
I always have a hard time rating poetry but yet I still enjoy poetry.
I also like using it as a between from one book to the next.
The first part is a black man accused of crime he didn't commit.
The second half is a black man that chose crime as though he had no other choice.
It was interesting poetry and very interestingly done.
Stephanie Katz
Feb 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This collection of poems is inspired! I have never before read a collection of poems that build on each other to form a story. I couldn’t put it down! Eady’s language is so simple and stripped down yet rich with meaning, symbolism, and scorching observations on race in America. I highly highly recommend this poet!
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A collection about race and the repercussions of lying, these poems are complex and deep. The poet is a brilliant writer and the way he wrote these out makes you feel the pain he wants to express over being black and how it is living in this country.
Denise Junker
Straight forward

Poetry that is not belabored by imagery or metaphors is good to me. This was straight forward story-telling poetry. It was dealing with dark imagery but poetry does if you deal with racism head on.
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
a book of poetry i actually liked
Lynda Eicher
Oct 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
When the invented black murderer of Susan Smith tells the story of his "birth" in the form of poetry, you take notice. Thank you, Cornelius. ...more
Peace E, A (I)
Feb 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have no words! This book left me breathless and without words. I find myself often returning to to think with and through it, especially the poem, sex by running man. Very powerful read.
Brenna Sydel
Oct 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Wonderfully written with a near perfect flow from piece to piece. The pacing makes you consider every word, every line. Upsetting and remarkable
Not Mark
Dec 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Mar 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The first brilliant decision made in putting together this book was deciding to juxtapose two seemingly disparate narratives to provide a complete picture of the pressures and dangers of being an African-American man in the United States. The first section, written in the voice of the fictitious black kidnapper Susan Smith invented to cover-up the killing of her two children, is a blazing criticism of white America's view of African American men. It digs deep into our cultural associations of Af ...more
Dec 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: autographed
This books is split into two sections. The first covers a poem cycle that reflects on Susan Smith's invented story of a black man stealing her car and murdering her children. This cycle is divided into four sections, three of which coming from the perspective of the black man she fabricated. (The second section is told from various members of the black community about their roles as black citizens.) For me, the most powerful and provocative are the first and last sections of the cycle.

The second
Sep 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Cornelius Eady's prescient book of poetry centers around the 1994 double murder of Michael and Alex Smith, killed by their mother Susan Smith. Brutal Imagination speaks to the way in which white fear of the Black body can and does impact the sensory perception of white people. Eady makes hay out of the multitude of white "witnesses" who claimed to see an individual who never existed, pairing biting satire with heavy existential speculation. Eady's poems exist in a previously unseen world, the wo ...more
May 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
For those looking to read Running Man, a 1999 finalist for the Pulitzer, the closest thing to a published version is Cornelius Eady’s aptly-named Brutal Imagination.

This collection of poems can be divided into two sections: Brutal Imagination, told from the perspective of the nonexistent black man Susan Smith claimed kidnapped and killed her children, and Running Man, a story of the death of a black man (and, in a larger context, how American society destroys young black men).

The poems, despite
Feb 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
I thought this book was brilliant in the way it took horrible cultural liabilities (early 20th century representations of black America in adveritising) and turned them into speaking personae to address contemporary America.

It played with beings that don't exist; it let them speak. Also brilliant was his "incarnation" of the imaginary black man Susan Smith blamed when she murdered her children. Eady created a really powerful poem around that deeply disturbing shared cultural experience.

I was re
Sep 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
two things happening here: a set of poems on the unknown, non-existence "black male" that susan smith alleged kidnapped her children in 1994. wry, wounded, powerful poems. i do think that they've suffered a bit from their marriage to a case that was a national flashpoint but now is remembered more as a gruesome true-crimer. eady's insistent elevation of crass reality into art works out in the end, although it does require you to soil your personal spirit linens by thinking about the susan smith ...more
Apr 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating book of poems, lent to me by my dear friend Susie Meserve who took off on a plane to Norway before I could get it back to her!! More than half the book is about the mythical "black man" that Susan Smith indicted to cover up her own murder of her children. While I think that the voice could have been eerier, could have gone a little further, taken more twists and turns to disrupt the consciousness of the reader, the concept is bold and daring and necessary and makes an impor ...more
Jul 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
The first half of this collection, told from the perspective of the Black man Susan Smith invented to blame for her murder of her own children, has a haunting quality - the poems feel as if they're narrated by ghosts, something real but that shifts away when you catch a glimpse of it from the corner of your eye. The reality of this spector and its consequences for Black men (which Eady details more in the second half of the collection) is impossible to deny, even as Eady refuses to bring his ima ...more
Mar 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a startling book of poetry. Cornelius Eady's Brutal Imagination is about injustice. The poet uses two high profile cases to prove that sadly unfairness does live in our land of liberty. Brutal imagination is broken up into two parts. One part shows imagination can be used to expound hatred in our society. The other part of the poetry book is titled Running Man. It's a more general view of the hardships black men face in society. Cornelius Eady's poetry is splendid. Brutal Imagination lef ...more
Denton Peter McCabe
Oct 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Excellent poetry. This book is very moving and in light of all the racially motivated violence in America, works like Brutal Imagination (a four part cycle of poetry) are incredibly moving and profound. I would like to see these poems set to music, or at least some of brutal imagination set to music. The Running Man Poems make up the second cycle in the book and many of them were set to music by Diedre Murray and performed as an opera. I did not enjoy those poems quite as much as the Brutal imag ...more
May 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
I had forgotten about the "Running Man" poems when I checked this book out from the library and only remembered the Susan Smith poems of the first half. The poems of the second half have a compelling narrative arc that gives its own meaning to the title "Brutal Imagination." I was looking to read how Eady used the series of poems to tell a narration and I was not disappointed. The language is sparse and evocative. "Running Man" kept surprising me with each new poem. A good read! ...more
Nov 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone looking for something different.
I never really had a liking for poetry until I found narrative poetry which is evident in this book. Eady's chronological sense of tying everything together through poetry is impeccable and this is the first book of poetry I picked up that I actually liked. It speaks of so many important controversial issues such as abduction, homicide, and race that are resembled in all of these poems. It would even be a great book for justice studies! ...more
Gerry LaFemina
May 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Just reread this book for the first time in a dozen years with my poetry book group: Eady's ability to give life and pathos to the imagined killer of Susan Smith's children in precise lyrics is compelling; and the multiple voices of the book's second half--variants of a libretto on the life story of young successful hood--show him to be not just a fine craftsman but also a poet with great command of what makes us human. ...more
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Like Joyce and Tolstoy, Cornelius Eady is an American writer focusing largely on matters of race and society, His poetry often centers on jazz and blues, family life, violence, and societal problems stemming from questions of race and class. His poetry is often praised for its simple and approachable language.

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