Chanda Feldman starts Approaching the Fields with a poem containing the line, “Forget the dead stay down, they persist as haints.”
Feldman’s ancestors are the focus of this poetry collection, published in 2018 by Louisiana State University Press. The book documents their lives and legacies.
But Approaching the Fields is not merely an artist’s reflective look on those who came before her. It also explores the systemic oppression forced upon African Americans.
Chanda Feldman Portrays Persecution
Feldman’s poetry in this collection delivers binary value. They share her familial tales and, in so doing, also portray the injustices faced by black Americans in the South.
The poet doesn’t highlight the abuse of African Americans in her poems. Rather, the persecution plays in the background, appearing subtlely and unexpectedly.
An example of this is Feldman’s poem, “Election Day.” In it, she portrays African American sharecroppers on Election Day.
The poem’s beginnings portray a seemingly celebratory mood at an outdoor barbecue. But then in the final stanza comes the lines:
The men, one by one, signed for their ballots.
The man you sharecropped for chose your say.
We read in history books that after 1870, African American men in the U.S. could vote. What we don’t understand is that even still, many of those men, and then their sons and grandsons, couldn’t vote for whom they chose.
It’s this blunt yet subtle sharing of the black American experience in the Southern United States that makes Approaching the Fields so masterful.
A Tale of Achievement
Chanda Feldman breaks Approaching the Fields into four parts.
The first part explores the author’s ancestral past. The second part focuses on her childhood, and on how her parents went from sharecropper’s kids to college students.
The book’s third part reflects her parents’ experience growing up in the segregated South. And the fourth part contains one poem, a piece that neatly ties what we’ve read into a worthy recessional.
Feldman’s poems are penned as songs to be passed down through the ages. Her writing is crisp, clear, and enthralling.
The pieces contain twists, turns of phrases, and unexpected uses of words that keep you reading one line to the next.
And while the educational aspect to this collection, especially to those not aware of the oppression faced by black Americans, is important, it’s worth noting that Feldman does not preach.
If you’re looking for a book of complaints, Approaching the Fields is not for you. The pieces in this collection do not sing sorrowful songs of woes and lamentations.
What Feldman’s collection is, is a work of storytelling. Yes, the stories are about a persecuted people in a place that excels at persecuting them.
But in the end, Approaching the Fields is a celebration of achievement and progress in the face of institutionalized barriers.
It’s the story of a sharecropper’s granddaughter knowing, appreciating, and documenting that from which she came.
Disclaimer: Louisiana State University Press provided me with a complimentary copy of Approaching the Fields. I was not required to write a review, be it positive or negative. The opinions expressed here are my own. And I have not received any compensation for writing this post.