CBR11Bingo – Own Voices
The font and cover design of the front of this book is stunning and alluring, but also made me a little self-conscious to be reading this book out in public. This is an absolutely wonderful collection of poems that feels like a long essay on the visceral experiences contained within. While I am not against reading polemics on race in America, one thing that I have had some frustration with in the last first years is kind of perfectly correct, but not ultimately interesting essay collections that more often than not restate commonly held beliefs.
This book like other recent books by African American poets like American Citizen by Claudia Rankine and Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones takes the general zeitgeist and ethos that those essay collections attempt to capture and run them through much more experiential poetical language, and the result is a more fluid, nuanced, and emotional encapsulation of our time period than essays (which often end up being more or less ok, or just ok hot takes that I already ostensibly agreed with going on).
There’s various kinds of poems and the most essay like are the “Magical Negro” poems which explain and show a type of this phenomenon or posit a reaction to it. But I like a lot of the other poems in this collection more so in terms of their poetic quality, even though the reading experience of the more topical poems is still very satisfying.
Here’s a great example of this:
Who Were Frederick Douglass’s Cousins, and Other Quotidian Black History Facts That I Wish I Learned in School
I have a body. It sits in a desk.
Every day is bitten with new guilt.
My teacher can see right
through me, all the way
to Black History Month.
It is my fortune to be
ashamed, and from nowhere.
How can I concentrate
on photosynthesis when
there is a thing called Africa?
When my teacher talks about slaves,
I become a slave. I know too much.
I raise my hand. American flag
and family tree. Is it my fault
my stomach aches? I wait
in my desk and try to be still.
I lie and immediately confess.
I grow a plant in a paper towel.
I get in trouble for talking.
At recess, I pretend.
The mountains are closing in.
I am good, but too curious.
What happened to the Indians?
How do we know about heaven,
Where did Harriet Tubman sleep?
Who did Harriet Tubman kiss?
What about the Africans that stayed?
Why are they hungry?
Did Frederick Douglass’s mother
brush his hair in the morning?
Was he tender-headed and afraid?
Is this how I am supposed to feel?
Are you sure? How do you know?