LUCY NEGRO, REDUX: The Bard, a Book, and a Ballet

LUCY NEGRO, REDUX: The Bard, a Book, and a Ballet


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Lucy Negro, Redux, uses the lens of Shakespeare's "Dark Lady" sonnets to explore the way questions about and desire for the black female body have evolved over time, from Elizabethan England to the Jim Crow South to the present day. Equally interested in the sensual and the serious, the erotic and the academic, this collection experiments with form, dialect, persona, and voice. Ultimately a hybrid document, Lucy Negro Redux harnesses blues poetry, deconstructed sonnets, historical documents and lyric essays to tell the challenging, many-faceted story of the Dark Lady, her Shakespeare, and their real and imagined milieu. Inspired by the book, The Nashville Ballet will premiere “Lucy Negro Redux,” an original ballet conceived and choreographed by Artistic Director & CEO, Paul Vasterling, in February 2019.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780997457827
Publisher: Third Man Books
Publication date: 03/12/2019
Pages: 119
Sales rank: 122,137
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Caroline Randall Williams is a multi-genre writer and and educator in Nashville Tennessee. She is co-author of the Phyllis Wheatley Award-winning young adult novel The Diary of B.B. Bright, and the NAACP Image Award-winning cookbook Soul Food Love. Named by Southern Living as “One of the 50 People changing the South,” the Cave Canem fellow has been published in multiple journals, essay collections and news outlets, including The Iowa Review, The Massachusetts Review, CherryBombe and the New York Times. Her debut collection of poetry, Lucy Negro, Redux: The Bard, a Book, and a Ballet (Third Man Books, Spring 2019) is currently being turned into a ballet.

Read an Excerpt


The idea of her warm brown body long stretching under his hands is a righteous want— she’s become an Other way to talk about skin, the world-heavy mule of her, borne line by line down the page:
run and tell everything,
every truth you ever knew about BlackLucyNegro.
Say she is the loose light.
Say she is the root.
Say she ate at his table.
Say she ate at all. Say she. Say she. Say she.


the red room of my body the pain that rattles me with sparking

a prick of blood on the tip on the tip a prick blood pricks the tip of the prick on a tip of blood the blood the tip of of of

What part shame,
the anatomy of lust?
What part humiliation?
What part exposure?
What part transgression?

What part chthonic impulse?—

Bet Persephone got just a little bit wet toward the end of summer,
and Hades on her mind.


Once, in the night with maybe one lamp glowing,
My shirt was finally raised over my head,
My brassiere unclasped, tights rolled down
And underwear offed—hip, knee, ankle.
Then, what would you think of my body?
Had you ever negotiated such coarse hair,
Seen nipples dark and darker in their tensing,
Breasts swaying sideways with the weight
Of them? Did you know how much it was to ask,
To be the first glimpse of a naked black body?
Did you know the fear of being found fearful?
And later, after you’d grown accustomed,
Proved yourself equal to the task of my landscape,
You laughed and said, let’s play masters and slaves.
I wore it lightly, said no, moved on,
But it made me think about my teeth on the couch,
Glowing white there in the light of the television
Against my skin, made me grateful for my perfume
Covering the smell of my body, made me wonder
When it would be time again to get a relaxer
Before my hair betrayed my best efforts
To straighten it, made me alive to all the offenses
Nature is prone to. When you said
Let’s play masters and slaves, you thought
Role play. I thought black girl

Table of Contents

I A Book


{Then will I swear that beauty herself is black,/And all they foul that thy complexion lack} 5

BlackLucyNegro I 7

BlackLucyNegro II 9

Transubstantiate, Redux or, Sublimating Lucy Whilst at Church 10

BlackLucyNegro III 14

Aemilia Lanyer Was a White Girl 15

Anatomy of Lust 16

Black Luce 19

Nude Study or, Shortly before Meeting Lucy. A White Boy 20

A Challenge to Lucy's Gentleman Callers 21

Sublimating Lucy. Considering Courbet 22

Black Luce Would Have Loved Josephine Baker 23

{The statute of thy beauty thou wilt take,/Thou usurer, that put'st forth all to use,/And sue a friend came debtor for my sake;/So him I lose through my unkind abuse./Him have I lost; thou hast both him and me:/He pays the whole, and yet am I not free.} 24

From Volume IV of the Bridewell Prison Records, London 1579-1597 26

{Myself I'll forfeit, so that the other mine/Thou wilt restore to be my comfort still:/But thou wilt not, nor he will not be free…} 30

In Which the Fair Youth Loves Black Luce 31

In March or, Shortly before Meeting Lucy 32

BlackLucyNegro IV 33

{But slave to slavery my sweetest friend must be} 34

The Biddies Speak 35

Milk Cow's Come Home Blues 36

Comfort Girl Blues 37

Field Holler 38

Vitiligo Blues 39

Brown Girl, Red Bone 40

Comeback Spirit 41

Lucy Run It 42

Field Nigger or, Sublimating Lucy. Tired, of Hearing Certain Questions 43

Backbone 44

{Till my bad angel fire my good one out} 45

{For I have sworn thee fair} I 46

{My love is as a fever longing still} II 47

{And so the general of hot desire was, sleeping, by a virgin hand disarm'd.} III 48

{The better angel is a man right fair, the worser spirit a woman colored ill} IV 49

{Then I will declare that Beauty herself is black} V 50

{But, love, hate on, for now I know thy mind} VI 51

{If hairs be wires, black wires grow from her head} VII 52

{Knowing thy heart torment me with disdain} VIII 53

{Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body's end} IX 54

{I against myself with thee partake} X 55

{For I have sworn thee fair. More perjured eye} XI 56

{But slave to slavery my sweet'st friend must be} XII 57

{When all my best doth worship thy defect} XIII 58

{Till my bad angel fire my good one out} XIV 59

{The expense of spirit in a waste of shame is lust in action} XV 60

{Now is black beauty's successive heir} XVI 61

{Thy black is fairest in my judgement's place} XVII 62

{She that makes me sin awards me pain} XVIII 63

{Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan for that deep wound it gives my friend and me} 65

Black Luce Goes to See Othello and Becomes Mildly Indignant 66

Black Luce Goes to See Much Ado about Nothing and Thinks Some People Don't Have Enough Real Things to Worry About 67

Black Luce Goes to See Henry V and It Makes Her Press Her Legs Together 68

When I Fantasize About Him and Black Luce Late at Night A 69

Rose Flower Writes Him a Sonnet or, {I myself am mortgaged to [my] will} 70

Comeback Spirit II 72

This Exiat Sayeth That 73

Lucy's Exiat Sayeth That 74

II A Ballet


Conversation 79

Ballet Libretto

Libretto 91


Photos 101

Acknowledgements 117

About the Poet 119

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

InLucy Negro, Redux, Caroline Randall Williams has unearthed a new folk hero, a harbinger of the suppressed Black feminine. The voice in these exceptional poems is an active subversion to deep-rooted, but still relevant, western misogyny. Lucy Negro is no one’s muse, side-piece, or hush thing; she is an ironic blues in a familiar Shakespearean tapestry. The rhythmic vernacular and authentic lexicon urges us to read these poems out loud:I break it if I bought it,/ I own it if I caught it,/ I spend it if I got it./ Is this a 16thcentury European or the reincarnation of Bessie Smith? She is both. Randall Williams reminds us that the past is created from the now moment. As much as Lucy is historical artifact, she is a voice we need right now. This is more than historical poetry that relays facts. This is an unapologetic Black sonnet/song. The author has successfully avoided that debut we tend to disown later in our writing careers; rather, Randall Williams has produced a manuscript that should be heard, sung, examined, then reexamined until Lucy comes crawling out our collective eyes, ears, throats and reticence. —Derrick Harriell (Author of Cotton and Ropes)

Caroline Randall Williams' debut collection of poetry,Lucy Negro, Redux, is a fearless, mesmerizing accomplishment. Brilliant, sensual, and always powerful,Lucy Negro, Reduxdares us (and all Others) to gaze directly at the complex silhouette of beauty shackled inside of Shakespeare's famous 'Dark Lady Sonnets', and the playwright's own shrouded avowal "...I will declare that Beauty herself is black". Explicit in imagination and invention, Williams' achievement in these pages examines the (mis)coded vernacular of desire and its relationship to blackness, in plain sight. Black Luce, no longer stranded and silenced in a colorless narrative, blazes and burns with agency in Williams' symphonic odium of desire, race, and history. Williams writes, "Lucy, Lucy, even you's God's flesh."/This world ain't wanna see that yet." As Williams' (and Lucy's) readers, we are asked to witness the piecing vision of this collection, which is astute in its nuanced gaze at the psyche of poetry as flesh. Dazzling in ambition,Lucy Negro,Reduxdraws back the bright skin of language to reveal a raw and original (Blk!) nerve. —
Rachel Eliza Griffiths (Author of Mule and Pear, winner of the 2012 Black Caucus American Library Association’s Inaugural Poetry Award):


From New Orleans Review Interview (with Kristin Sanders, author of Kuntry) :

KS: The premise of the book is that Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady,” from sonnets 127 to 154, is “Black Lucy”
or “Black Luce,” a black woman who ran a brothel during Shakespeare’s time. So you researched this actual, historical woman, and from there, the writing extends out to different eras, situations, women, and identities. The book has this gorgeous timelessness. And yet it feels very timely, given the Black Lives Matter movement and the lifting up of Black beauty, Black bodies. (I’m thinking of Viola Davis’ recent Emmy award, and her moving speech.) Your final two poems, “This Exiat Sayeth That” and “Lucy’s Exiat Sayeth That,” are especially powerful given this racially fraught moment—even globally speaking, with immigration in the US and abroad, and terrorism, all of this “us versus them” reactionary, stereotyping politics. You write, “We are fit for the degree of them that use us,” and “Lucy is burning,” and “The answer Lucy the new look question and truth of all the things a dark lady can be” (71). And the final line of the book: “By God if you warm and eat me, I will nourish and fatten you” (72). Your book ends on a note of hopefulness and triumph. Did you try to cultivate that feeling for the ending? And did you think about our current political moment as you were writing this?

CRW: The short answer to your question is, of course. Yes. For me, writing poetry is an act of will, will to love life, love myself, love the world around me, even like it is. I work to put down words that will fortify that will in myself, and the people who read my poems. In the spirit of that intention, I very much wanted the end of my book to be both a celebration and a challenge, a reproach to those who pass unjust judgment, and an invitation to return, understand better, and judge again.

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