Mini book review: ‘Olio,’ by Tyehimba Jess

by Patty Templeton

“Olio,” by Tyehimba Jess, won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. This ain’t the type of poetry you had to read in high school that made you feel dumb. It’s the type of poetry you take pics of to send to your unsuspecting friends because they showcase the harsh history of American (music) culture in an elegance not often found.

“Olio” is based on real people, taking place from the Civil War to just before World War II. Each section is dedicated to black musicians who have been left out of the history books. It works its way through first generation-freed slaves working minstrel shows to mid-century modern music.

There are no rules in this conversational collection. It contains poetry and a fictional letter series from a WWII veteran to W.E.B. Du Bois about Scott Joplin. The collection has pages that fold out and poems that read in three orders told from two points of view – you can read one column down, another column down, and then read the columns straight across, as they sit side by side. It’s Jess’ second book, after his acclaimed “Leadbelly,” based on the life of the famous bluesman.

People who enjoy music, American history, or poetry that could crack open damn near any heart should pick up a copy of “Olio,” by Tyehimba Jess.

Patty Templeton


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