Things I Must Have Known

Poetry by A.B. Spellman

April 1, 2008 • 6 x 9 • 162 pages • 978-1-56689-211-7

An exuberant, generous collection touching on creativity and fatherhood, racism and workplace politics, A.B. Spellman’s poems address the most important personal and public events of the last seventy years—of how it felt to grow up black in a segregated America, of the transformational experience of hearing live jazz, of the give-and-take of a long marriage, and of the importance and inspiration of good friends.

About the Author

The former Deputy Director of the National Endowment for the Arts and a founding member of the Black Arts Movement, A.B. Spellman has also been a regular commentator on jazz for NPR and is the author of Things I Must Have Known and Four Jazz Lives, a classic in the field of jazz criticism. During his thirty-year tenure at the NEA, Spellman deferred poetry publication resulting in this long overdue, first full-length collection—a masterwork of previously unpublished poems.

Thanks to a 2013 ADA Access Improvement Grant administered by VSA Minnesota for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, this title is also formatted for screen readers which make text accessible to the blind and visually impaired. To purchase this title for use with a screen reader please call (612) 338-0125 or email us at info@coffeehousepress.org.


“Spellman’s poems will make you do the Monk dance. Read and rise.” —E. Ethelbert Miller

“Read this collection and you will need no one to convince you that poetry is a necessity.” —Keorapetse Kgositsile, South African National Poet Laureate

“A.B. Spellman writes with the ease and fluidity of his favorite jazz musician John Coltrane blowing his horn. . . . This is a book and a writer to savor.” —Jane Alexander

“A.B. (that’s his real name)’s poetry has been movingly deepened and expanded in form and content since his first The Beautiful Days. The subtlety and concrete abstraction that made the first book an obscure gem have been beautifully enlarged and deepened, by the poet now confident in his skills and certain of his own voice. The poet’s language a marvelous amalgam of the vernacular & the other stuff we got from being up in dis so long. It is a wonderful book, we aint even mad at him for taking dis long.” —Amiri Baraka

“A treasure chest of poems of astonishing intellectual and emotional range. A.B. Spellman’s voice is one-of-a-kind, his poems informed by an uncompromising intelligence, yet filled with music, humor, and irresistible vitality.” —Murray Horwitz, American Film Institute

“These poems are companionable in the same way A.B. is—reflective, self-critical, challenging, sometimes discomforting, always showing you a different angle. I get carried away by the music that drives each of them. This book’s layered narrative of distinctly personal journey embedded in American social and cultural history and the uneven evolution of the human species is a remarkable achievement.” —Jonathan Katz, CEO National Assembly of State Arts Agencies

“Perceptive and musical, A.B. Spellman provides an incisive take on important issues that have shaped and challenged America and the world. Passionate and lyrical, A.B. Spellman posits in our bloodstream poems, nay gems, that illuminate our breaths until we say Amen. A woman. Welcome home, A.B. Spellman, to this ‘country’ called poetry.” —Sonia Sanchez