Cover image for Waiting for sweet Betty
Waiting for sweet Betty
Major, Clarence.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Port Townsend, Wash. : Copper Canyon Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
viii, 101 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3563.A39 W35 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



"I find myself writing poems about things I can't paint," writes Clarence Major who, for 40 years, has been viewed by critics as a "polymorphous writer who has been iconoclast, black esthetician, modernist, surrealist, postmodernist, and deconstructionist" ( World Literature Today ).

In Waiting for Sweet Betty , Major watches the world with careful longing to capture the exchanges and conflicts between person and place. Just as a painter juxtaposes colors and shapes, Major does the same with words, often writing as an outsider in foreign places. He shifts perspective away from the self, allowing words to play off one another subtly--with puns, inverted/subverted cliches, and sweet bop soundings--so that his vision might become anyone's. His subtle, conversational style, is at oncehumble, playful, humorous, and studied, and his stories can be seen as well as heard:

I ride backwards to see what I'm missing.

Big pines and big skies ride up and down and around,
Up and down and around then for a straight stretch.

A white pickup shooting along a white highway east with us.

Note I'm trying to call home but cannot.

Sky and brush and pine and salt-earth curving sharply, tilting away

--from "Train Window Going and Coming"

"Clarence Major is a master of everyday language and textual fine-tuning, showing an indebtedness to the Harlem Renaissance, to the Objectivists, and to Black Mountaineers."-- Publishers Weekly

Clarence Major was a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry for Configurations: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon). He is the author of 10 books of poetry, nine novels, a short story collection, and several books of nonfiction. He is the subject of two recent books: Clarence Major and His Art (UNC Press) and Conversations with Clarence Major (Mississippi). Major teaches American literature at the University of California at Davis.

Author Notes

Artist and writer Clarence Major grew up in Chicago and later received his Ph.D. from the Union Institute in Ohio.

He has been a judge for the National Book Awards and was twice named to the panel of the National Endowment of the Arts.

Major has written eight novels including "Such Was The Season" and "Painted Turtle," which received citations from the New York Times Book Review as Summer Reading and Notable Book of the Year, and "My Amputations," which received the Western States Book Award. Major published "Juba Jive: A Dictionary of African American Slang," as well as nine other books of poetry that won a National Council of the Arts Award and two Pushcart Prizes.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

There's a new freedom in Major's poetry, an airiness and brightness, and a music more lively than that heard in Configurations: New and Selected Poems, 1958^-1998. Novelist, essayist, and author of a family memoir, Come by Here: My Mother's Life [BKL My 1 02], Major is a fantastically versatile writer cued to the moods of landscape and the landscapes of moods. Here he describes the balm of California light in poems as delicate and radiant as watercolors, and other lovely places, especially Paris, in poems possessed of the breezy contentment of entries in a happy traveler's journal. The painterly poet even steps through the frame and visits worlds created by Rembrandt, Eakins, and Hopper. But bliss is transient while memories of love derailed, insufficient funds both material and spiritual, and postponed satisfaction creep in like shadows. Yet "nature is taking care of itself and all that matters," and the poet, who makes his art look easy but who is working with demanding exactitude, is patiently waiting, "waiting is what I do," for more of life's sweetness. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

While Major's Configurations: New & Selected Poems 1958-1998 was nominated for a National Book Award, this is his most subtle and beautiful book yet, highlighting his impressive range of styles and his precision of expression. Major explores his sense of place and its links to landscape, art, love and home in poems like "Purple California Mountains, near Half Moon Bay": "That's a boundary, too, and two, from a window in the house./ The darkness there is not yours, not mine./ Concrete in its promise, corrosive and full of dust, it./ We knew it the moment we entered, we knew./ It's not our darkness, it's rented." Divided into three parts, the collection begins with meditative poems that echo Gary Snyder in their close observation of the wild California landscape. Yet Major also uses precise Creeley-esque stanzas and notebook jottings to show humans overwhelmed by nature. From "Habitat: Time and Place, Cambria, California, 1999": "Today, hill pasture, full of flax's white,/ same as yesterday, gnarly and snippy./ I'm out here going to seed under the tree./ I'm suspicious of this open land laid out and out.// It's friendly but/unsympathetic-or maybe it's me, maybe it's just me./ I keep framing it anyway/ but it goes beyond frame/ while staying the same, immodest and lippy." Part II moves from California to poems on paintings and Paris; these poems gracefully and obliquely address both the acceptance and the dislocation an artist of color feels in the City of Light, with its history of harboring Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, Countee Cullen and other migrs from the United States. A wide-ranging third section moves from abstract poems like "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me" to poems-on-poetry, such as "What Is a Symbol?" to the lovely title poem of the book, which skillfully combines shades of Beckett's Waiting for Godot with the subtle nostalgia of waiting to find place, a home, identity, or the mysterious and undefined Sweet Betty herself: "I wait for plum rock to turn a darker purple./I wait for the unmistakable black in white people to show./I wait for black people to catch windflowers./The sweetest waiting, though, is waiting for Sweet Betty." This collection has been well worth waiting for. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In Major's vividly rendered collection-his 11th-the poet claims that he "sees" language as a painter sees color and texture. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Part 1 San Diego and Matissep. 5
Mendocinop. 6
Rock and a Hard Placep. 7
Vizcainop. 8
Art Is Parallel to Naturep. 10
From the Train Window Going and Comingp. 12
Winter in Northern Californiap. 13
Summer Place: Cambriap. 14
Habitat: Time and Placep. 15
Gathering Mushrooms: Cambriap. 17
Shoreline at Cambriap. 18
Moon and Moonlight (at Cambria)p. 19
Purple California Mountainsp. 20
The Lay of the Landp. 22
Unknown Harborp. 23
Before and Afterp. 24
Chinatown Bluesp. 26
The Purchasep. 27
Part 2 Van Gogh's Deathp. 31
Rembrandt's Etching of a Woman Pissingp. 32
Portrait of the Great White Hunter Foxhunting in the Absence of Big Gamep. 33
An Eighteenth-Century Momentp. 34
Sunday Afternoonp. 37
Edward Hopper's Woman Sitting on the Bedp. 39
A Mountain Village in Southern Francep. 41
No One Goes to Paris in Augustp. 43
Paris Plan in Handp. 45
In the Yard Facing the Ocean: A Roots Compositionp. 51
Weatherp. 52
Photograph of a Gathering of People Wavingp. 53
Countryside Campp. 55
Wanderer in a Foreign Countryp. 56
Part 3 In My Own Languagep. 61
Why Wait? Do It Nowp. 62
Do Nothing Till You Hear from Mep. 63
Gracelessness Recaptured as Gracep. 65
What Is a Symbol?p. 66
First Night of Springp. 68
Love Letterp. 69
Long After You Are Ashesp. 70
The Play of Real Lifep. 71
On the Beachp. 72
You and Othersp. 73
Three Figures in an Interiorp. 74
The Art of Sitting in a Chairp. 75
The People Next Doorp. 76
The Hat Lady in the Parlor Windowp. 77
Inside Outsidep. 79
The Memory and the Placep. 80
Process and Spacep. 81
Unknown Presencep. 83
Reading about Rocksp. 85
The Documentp. 86
One Thing for Surep. 87
Rumors: A Family Matterp. 91
The Painting after Lunchp. 92
Film and Fleshp. 93
Waiting for Sweet Bettyp. 94
Thomas Eakins's Delaware River Paintingsp. 97
Thomas Eakins and the Photograph of a Man in Motionp. 99
About the Authorp. 101