Fine, solid new work by the author of the 1976 NBA nominee, The Peacock Poems. The weakest of the book's three parts contains the contemporary poems: Williams' childhood, her family and its history, her loves and troubles. The verse is musical and frequently moving: ""Summer mornings we/ rose early to go/ and rob the trees,/ bringing home the/ blossoms we were told/ were like a white girl's skin/ And we believed/ this. . . ."" But the subject matter is familiar, and the poet's lack of a distinctive vocabulary and tone is a problem. As an historian, however, Williams shines. ""Regular Reefer"" is a tribute to Bessie Smith and her blues: ""She carried herself/ like she didn't know she/ was ugly, almost/ like she didn't know she/ was black."" There are Several original lyrics, per ""The Downhearted Blues"": ""This is what you get for sparkle and shine/ This is what you get for sparkle and shine/ A two bit husband and a bitch sin' worth a dime."" And there is the opening section: ""Letters From a New England Negro,"" In which Hannah Herald goes south to teach black children after the Civil War; and the New England-educated ""white"" voice of the black woman, encountering the speech and lives of Southern blacks, is utterly convincing. She writes to her friends back home, chronicling her feelings of estrangement from the South, from the students, from her fellow teachers (""Homer,/ as you warned, does not so often/ figure in conversation/ as I had supposed"")--along with her tentative yet exultant sense of identity with the surviving black African culture. ""I/ know only that I was a/ servant; now my labor is/ returned to me and all my/ waiting is upon myself.