English 12 — Period 1 — Mon. Mar. 5 to Fri. Mar. 9

Write an analysis of on the topic “The nature of the speaker in Brutal Imagination”.

Monday: We began brainstorming.

Here are some questions you might ask yourself to help brainstorm on this topic:

  • Where does he come from? How is he born?
  • What is his relationship to Susan?
  • What is his relationship to society?
    • How is he caused by / enabled by society?
    • How does he affect society?
  • How does the poet portray him? (Types of metaphors, images, etc)
  • Who are his relations?

Note that you do not need to answer all of these questions in your response. Instead, brainstorm and make notes until find a particular thread of ideas that you can articulate.

Here is my example of how I would start filling this out by both remembering the poems in general, and then starting to look at specific poems, one at a time

  • Where does he come from? How is he born?
    • Susan’s imagination
    • A lie
    • Stereotype
    • Her emotional situation / Need to protect herself
  • What is his relationship to Susan?
    • Share body parts throughout the poem
    • Lots of “we”
  • What is his relationship to society?
    • How is he caused by / enabled by society?
    • How does he affect society?
      • He is out there “papering” the town; people are “hearing” and having “Sightings” of him.
      • Black folks are quotes as “knowning” what is meant
      • “Later a black woman will say: / ‘We knew exactly who she was describing.’”
        • “We” meaning other black folks.
        • “Exactly who she was describing” meaning the stereotype? A white fear?
          • “Susan claims my name is muscle”
        • So what is the effect on this segmant of the population to have this stereotype and fear put in front of you, all over on posters, news channels,
  • How does the poet portray him? (Types of metaphors, images, etc)
    • “Mr. Zero”
    • Related to the people below
    • Part of Susan, her heart, breath, “our hands” (p.  (“she r”
      • “I am the heaviness / the sheriff thinks he detects on Susan Smith’s tongue, / The story she tried to hold between her teeth and gums.” (p. 35)
    • “Flooding” and other water imagery, nature imagery from the lake setting
      • “But I am water, pebble, / Silt and gravity, / Evidence under her nail” (p. 37)
    • A ghost, an absense, faintly seen
      • “Somewhere near the bushes. On the periphery. / A noise you can’t easily locate.” (p. 35)
  • Who are his relations?
    • “Next of kin” poem — the man who “fits the description”
    • “Charles” poem — the other lies
    • The other imaginary black folk — Aunt Jemima, etc.
    • Susan, obv.

As I make these notes I notice that I am particularly interested in the “portrayal” aspect.  I look at my notes and might consider something like this as a main idea: The speaker is portrayed as a ghostly figure, marked as much by absence as presence, and one who is associated with physical images that connect him both to Susan and to the physical environment of the lake where we first invented him.

I note that I have two different ideas there with only a weak connection between them. I might therefore decide to revise my thesis to make it more unified, thusly: The speaker is portrayed as a hybrid amalgamation of Susan, the physical site of her crime, and the imaginative life of her community. He was born where racial stereotypes are given a kind of phantom reality in their use by a woman in a particular place of desperation and isolation.

Or I could try again: Cornelius Eady’s cycle of poems, Brutal Imagination, shows us how an act of brutality can give horrific life to stereotypes, bringing them to a semblance of life in a community while hiding their true nature as the product of desperation and fear.

I will keep revising my thesis as I write my response so that the body of my response matches the main claim I set out at its beginning and end.

These are just examples of my planning process. Your planning, your thinking, your process may look very different. Please do not restate my ideas as your own. These poems can support a huge variety of analyses. Read and take notes to construct your own ideas.

More planning:

Sub topics:

  • The speaker is a ghost
  • The speaker is Susan — specifically, her emotional state in that physical space
  • The speaker is the socially constructed stereotype


  • First he exists as air
  • Then a desperate person conjures him up into a semi-visible form.
  • This wouldn’t be possible without social support (confirming sightings, understandings)
  • He is white fear unleashed upon the world to account for white crimes and re

Now I try to write a paragraph or two:

The speaker of Brutal Imagination is a ghostly presence, just out of sight. He is often portrayed in terms that show how he is a manifestation of fear of the unknown as in the threat lurking “Somewhere near the bushes. On the periphery. / A noise you can’t easily locate” (p. 35).  This half-seen quality is perhaps best shown in the poem “Sightings” (p. 8-9) where the speaker is portrayed as “a glint” in an uncertain location at night, in “the wee, wee hours”. He is both half-seen and half remembered: he “signed or didn’t sign the register” and “took or didn’t take the key”. It is this uncertain, vague quality that allows his supposed witnesses to fill out the details with their fearful imagination, returning to them “Like a punchline you get the next day”.

But of course, neither Susan Smith nor these witnesses conjure the speaker out of nothing, but out of the thin air of socially constructed stereotypes. As “a black woman will say: / ‘We knew exactly who she was describing’” (p. 53). This is a social and historical environment that births many such apparitions out of the same air. Charles Stuart’s case is just one cited by the poet, but there are more; the speaker has a whole family of such relations, in addition to the non-criminal, but nonetheless imaginary people of the section that includes “Uncle Ben Watches the News” and “Aunt Jemima’s Do-Rag”………

Tuesday: More planning

Wednesday to Friday: Writing!

Homework: Reread the poems and gather quotes and ideas for your analysis.


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