Shane McCrae’s poetry collection Forgiveness Forgiveness is an important contribution to the current literary conversation about race in America and how we discuss American history. It’s a lyrical exploration of racial oppression and the role forgiveness plays in healing a wounded, divided country.
McCrae’s mixture of prose and free-verse poetry is at turns melodic, haunting, and realistic. These poems reveal pieces of history that people might not know about, and the plainspokenness and prose qualities force a painful level of honesty to the forefront of this conversation.
McCrae cites “Little Brown Koko” throughout the book to offer an unblinking examination of how racial oppression germinates. Through lyricism, his poems implicate the reader – how much do you actually want change? Enough to think about race relations? Enough to talk meaningfully about it? McCrae’s blunt and honest approach to these topics is perhaps best witnessed through his use of repetitive phrases that become watch cries for this collection.
Little Brown Koko goes by Koko
in the book as I remember it
Although he is / Little and black although he is
Subject to the book
in the book as I remember it / Nobody calls him Little Brown Koko
Nobody in the book
Little Brown Koko in the Visible Boy poems embodies the stereotypes that dominate American literature’s portrayal of African Americans. The children’s book motif serves as a metaphor for the early racial indoctrination of American children.
McCrae adds another dimension to this narrative discussion with his poem “They Title the Postcard ‘Just Singing a Song.’” McCrae depicts Little Brown Koko acknowledging the erasure that accompanies racial stereotypes:
Little Brown Koko says he is a joke
White folks make black folks
Play on themselves
Little Brown Koko says he is a song
more grating every time it’s sung
Closer to silence every time it’s sung.
Throughout these poems, McCrae meditates on what healing means for Black Americans when forgiveness seems far off. Take, for example, the poem “Forgiveness in America.” This poem depicts a horrifying Georgia lynching to juxtapose historical transgressions and personal abuses between individuals. It is important to note how different races handled those incidents and what that means for how these transgressions are dealt with.
Ultimately, McCrae’s collection argues forgiveness is the only way forward, even when it’s impossibly hard. Even in the face of trauma carried through generations. And perhaps the first step in that healing process is to unflinchingly name the affliction.
Julianna DeMicco is a rising senior at Binghamton University. She is currently pursuing a double major in philosophy, politics and law, and English with a concentration in creative writing and global cultures. She is a student leader on her campus and has focused her experiences on a service-based learning mentality. As a vocalist, trumpeter, ukulele player, and poet, she is fascinated by the musicality of poetry and loves to experiment with different rhythms in her own work. In her spare time, she furthers her independent study of Italian, French, and Chinese. In addition, she is pursuing a study of poetry and literature from different eras, specifically the Medieval Era to the Early Renaissance.