Jamaal May's Hum

Hum - Jamaal May

I stumbled across May's work hunting around for spring-themed poems on poetryfoundation.org to use in my class and instantly fell in love. I ordered Hum and have been leisurely enjoying it, sometimes reading a poem or two at a time, sometimes a chunk of poems. There isn't a poem in this book I don't like or one without a lovely, fresh image.


What drew me to May's work when I first encountered it was a complex love for Detroit, for the mechanical and the urban (that term has been ruined as code for black). These become like flowers in a Wordsworth poem, as natural. There's also something terribly tender throughout the book, and kind. There's sadness or fear, but no real despair (as in, these poems will never depress you or let you wallow in your own misery). Many last lines stunned me, but not in a way that slams the door shut on the poem.


Hum is also formally beautiful; there are literal forms, like the sestina, but everywhere it's evident May has a great eye for the line and for sound. That seems an obvious quality in poetry, but I'm surprised how often I'm disappointed by the craft of poems by contemporary poets. Often they're inert in their formality; that's never the case here.


If you don't read contemporary poetry, this book would be a great place to start.