An Apron Full of Beans: New and Selected Poems

CavanKerry Press, 2008


An Apron Full of Beans is an African-American sequel to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Written in the voices and with the lyrics of the blues, the spiritual and the language of writers such as Langston Hughes and Margaret Walker, the poems grow out of the historical and personal reminiscences of these artists and their traditions. The poems are both biographical and autobiographical as they revisit American history through the art forms of film noir, science fiction, the blues, jazz and other aspects of American history and popular culture.


The book has wide appeal — to those who may recall the books, persons, films and historical events of the 20th century; to those who have never experienced this history; to African Americans who have fond memories of their culture, to readers and scholars of multicultural America and to devotees of the Beat generation in mid-twentieth century America.


From the introduction:


In An Apron Full of Beans one sees all the facets of Sam Cornish’s mature work. In many poems the reader encounters a profound engagement with history that is almost Brechtian in that Cornish not only takes up iconic figures, such as Paul Robeson, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass, but also in that unnamed historic actors are the motors of events that the iconic figures come to embody. He also frequently displays a sometimes touching, sometimes hilarious feeling for popular culture, especially music, sports, and the movies, and literature so that the historical figures mix with filmic characters played by Jim Brown, Louis Beavers, Dorothy Dandridge, and Robert De Niro as well as fictional figures, such as Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas and Chester Himes’s Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones. Cornish has described his artistic journey as being “from Beat to African American.”

— James Smethurst, PhD, UMass, Amherst