'Ain’t Burned All the Bright'

Jason Reynold’s remarkable poem, “Ain’t Burned All the Bright” (Atheneum, 2022), is accompanied by the art of Jason Griffin in a book the publisher describes as “a smash-up of art and text that viscerally captures what it means to not be able to breathe and how the people and things you love most are actually the oxygen you most need.”

Great description.

The work was created in the difficult year of 2020 when we locked down with COVID-19 and George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis.

This collaboration of text and art could only be conceived and executed by longtime mutually trusting artists.

A sample page displays the words, “why did the chicken cross the road” on lined notebook paper backed with black with red splotches.

The page turn says: “to prove he wasn’t no chicken” on notebook paper.

The manifesto continues: “… and freedom to run and be out of breath …” on artist’s textured white canvas, and the page turn: “and catch it again …” on a black maze over white canvas “… and freedom to breathe” over scrap paper.

For me, it evokes George Floyd and pollution.

That’s the thing about poetry. Each person might see something different.

The manifesto goes on as phrases superimposed over raw images: “... and my mother don’t say nothing in her and just stares at the news (page turn) and my brother never lifts his head from the game (page turn) while his hands jut around moving in panic as he fights (page turn) for an extra life.”

The narrator’s father has COVID-19 and is isolated in a bedroom.

His hacking cough sounds “… like something is trying to break in and break out at the same time …”

Each word is cut from a newspaper or magazine like you’d write a ransom note.

The narrator is searching for an oxygen mask which will not be found.

He asks, “why the news won’t change the story … the story won’t change … about how we won’t change the world or the way we treat the world or the way we treat each other … And my life will be normal again …”

I hope you are intrigued enough by the quotes and my description to buy the book or borrow it from the library.

Young-adult books sometimes are written in cutting-edge forms. Like this one.

Check it out.

Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award-winning ‘Josephine,’ ‘Loving vs. Virginia’ and ‘Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,”’among others.

She also teaches community classes at Parkland College. Find out more at talesfor


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