stuff I read

A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland by DaMaris B. Hill

40046136Summary from Goodreads:
A Publishers Weekly Top 10 History Title for the season
Booklist’s Top 10 Diverse Nonfiction titles for the year
BookRiot’s “50 Must-Read Poetry Collections”
Most Anticipated Books of the Year– The Rumpus, Nylon

A revelatory work in the tradition of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, DaMaris Hill’s searing and powerful narrative-in-verse bears witness to American women of color burdened by incarceration.

“It is costly to stay free and appear / sane.”

From Harriet Tubman to Assata Shakur, Ida B. Wells to Sandra Bland and Black Lives Matter, black women freedom fighters have braved violence, scorn, despair, and isolation in order to lodge their protests. In A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing, DaMaris Hill honors their experiences with at times harrowing, at times hopeful responses to her heroes, illustrated with black-and-white photographs throughout.

For black American women, the experience of being bound has taken many forms: from the bondage of slavery to the Reconstruction-era criminalization of women; from the brutal constraints of Jim Crow to our own era’s prison industrial complex, where between 1980 and 2014, the number of incarcerated women increased by 700%.* For those women who lived and died resisting the dehumanization of confinement–physical, social, intellectual–the threat of being bound was real, constant, and lethal.

In A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing, Hill presents bitter, unflinching history that artfully captures the personas of these captivating, bound yet unbridled African-American women. Hill’s passionate odes to Zora Neale Hurston, Lucille Clifton, Fannie Lou Hamer, Grace Jones, Eartha Kitt, and others also celebrate the modern-day inheritors of their load and light, binding history, author, and reader in an essential legacy of struggle.

*(The Sentencing Project)

I inadvertently finished my first #ReadHarder2019 task – poetry collection pubbed after 2014 – because the flap copy for this book doesn’t mention that DaMaris Hill’s responses are in poetry form! 🙀 (well, the Claudia Rankine comp should have clued me in, maybe)

Here I was, ready for some rather academic essays about the incarceration of Black women, and got slapped up the side of the head by Hill’s poems. And they are STUNNING. Each poem (or section of poems) is for a Black woman “bound” by incarceration, whether enslavement, racism, Jim Crow, misogyny, or the modern prison-industrial complex. Highly recommend.

The highlight of this collection is a poem cycle for Ida B. Wells that is presented first as a mathematical or logic equation then translated into poems. An incredible work of art.

A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing published yesterday, January 16.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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Apropos Shakespeare · stuff I read

The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse: 1509–1659, selected by David Norbrook and edited by Henry R. Woudhuysen

609526Summary from Goodreads:
The era between the accession of Henry VIII and the crisis of the English republic in 1659 formed one of the most fertile epochs in world literature. This anthology offers a broad selection of its poetry, and includes a wide range of works by the great poets of the age – notably Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Sepnser, John Donne, William Shakespeare and John Milton. Poems by less well-known writers also feature prominently – among them significant female poets such as Lady Mary Wroth and Katherine Philips. Compelling and exhilarating, this landmark collection illuminates a time of astonishing innovation, imagination and diversity.

Selected and with an introduction by David Norbrook, and edited by H.R. Woudhuysen.

One of my goals this year was to read very (very) long books. One of my goals was to start, and finish, The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse 1509-1659. I loved the poetry we read when I took a Restoration literature class, and I love Shakespeare, so I was very interested in an overview of poetry  from this period. It’s a long haul of a book but a good overview of British Renaissance verse from the early Tudor period through just before the Restoration. I would have like better notation (there were a lot of analogies or references not explained), and for the poems in Scots or Welsh better translation side by side on the page as opposed to the endnotes, but I do appreciate that the editors didn’t modernize the spelling. It was harder to read in places but very interesting to see how spelling began to standardize over these 150 years of verse.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy from the local indie bookstore.

mini-review · stuff I read

Tropic of Squalor by Mary Karr

35959197Summary from Goodreads:
A new volume of poetry from the New York Times bestselling and esteemed author of The Liar’s Club and Lit.

Long before she earned accolades for her genre-defining memoirs, Mary Karr was winning poetry prizes. Now the beloved author returns with a collection of bracing poems as visceral and deeply felt and hilarious as her memoirs. In Tropic of Squalor, Karr dares to address the numinous—that mystery some of us hope towards in secret, or maybe dare to pray to. The “squalor” of meaninglessness that every thoughtful person wrestles with sits at the core of human suffering, and Karr renders it with power—illness, death, love’s agonized disappointments. Her brazen verse calls us out of our psychic swamplands and into that hard-won awareness of the divine hiding in the small moments that make us human. In a single poem she can generate tears, horror, empathy, laughter, and peace. She never preaches. But whether you’re an adamant atheist, a pilgrim, or skeptically curious, these poems will urge you to find an inner light in the most baffling hours of darkness.

I’d never read Mary Karr’s poetry before, didn’t even know she had previous collections 🙀 but I have read her memoir Lit and loved it. I found Tropic of Squalor very interesting. I liked the poem cycle that made up the last half of this collection. (I am the worst reviewer of poetry – can I speak critically about the work? Nerp, not a clue. But I enjoyed reading it.)

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley from the publisher.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Odyssey by Homer (transl. Emily Wilson)

34068470Summary from Goodreads:
The first great adventure story in the Western canon, The Odyssey is a poem about violence and the aftermath of war; about wealth, poverty, and power; about marriage and family; about travelers, hospitality, and the yearning for home.

In this fresh, authoritative version—the first English translation of The Odyssey by a woman—this stirring tale of shipwrecks, monsters, and magic comes alive in an entirely new way. Written in iambic pentameter verse and a vivid, contemporary idiom, this engrossing translation matches the number of lines in the Greek original, thus striding at Homer’s sprightly pace and singing with a voice that echoes Homer’s music.

Wilson’s Odyssey captures the beauty and enchantment of this ancient poem as well as the suspense and drama of its narrative. Its characters are unforgettable, from the cunning goddess Athena, whose interventions guide and protect the hero, to the awkward teenage son, Telemachus, who struggles to achieve adulthood and find his father; from the cautious, clever, and miserable Penelope, who somehow keeps clamoring suitors at bay during her husband’s long absence, to the “complicated” hero himself, a man of many disguises, many tricks, and many moods, who emerges in this translation as a more fully rounded human being than ever before.

A fascinating introduction provides an informative overview of the Bronze Age milieu that produced the epic, the major themes of the poem, the controversies about its origins, and the unparalleled scope of its impact and influence. Maps drawn especially for this volume, a pronunciation glossary, and extensive notes and summaries of each book make this an Odyssey that will be treasured by a new generation of scholars, students, and general readers alike.

Do you want a new translation of The Odyssey? Specifically, do you want a new translation of The Odyssey by a woman, which would make it the first known, published translation by a woman?

img_9314Yes, yes you want this new translation by Emily Wilson, if at minimum for the 90 page Introduction/Translator’s Note. Wilson gets into the particulars of Greek society and history, to provide basis for her language choices (particularly relating to the status of women in society), then also provides some context for her choices compared to previous English translations.

It is so good. From the opening line “Tell me about a complicated man” Wilson makes it clear that she’s not presenting Odysseus as the ultimate hero, that she isn’t going to glorify the events of the poem. Odysseus has done some really not-great things, and has really awful things visited on him, and Wilson makes us think about what actually makes up “a Hero”. The laguage of the poem itself is very readable, set in iambic pentameter, so it keeps the formality of the original while the rhythm is familiar to most of us in Western literature who have read Shakespeare. Notes and a list of names at the back (plus a few maps) will help out if you feel lost. This is a translation that will last for a while.

Thanks to Kyle at W.W.norton 😽😽 for sending this copy to review. I enjoyed it even more than I had anticipated.

Dear FTC: I tried to get a paper galley, but got access to a digital galley which was kind of hard to read, and then I got the surprise of my life with a finished review copy from the publisher.

mini-review · stuff I read

Whereas by Layli Long Soldier

29875897Summary from Goodreads:
The astonishing, powerful debut by the winner of a 2016 Whiting Writers’ Award

WHEREAS her birth signaled the responsibility as mother to teach what it is to be Lakota therein the question: What did I know about being Lakota? Signaled panic, blood rush my embarrassment. What did I know of our language but pieces? Would I teach her to be pieces? Until a friend comforted, Don’t worry, you and your daughter will learn together. Today she stood sunlight on her shoulders lean and straight to share a song in Diné, her father’s language. To sing she motions simultaneously with her hands; I watch her be in multiple musics.

—from “WHEREAS Statements”

WHEREAS confronts the coercive language of the United States government in its responses, treaties, and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes, and reflects that language in its officiousness and duplicity back on its perpetrators. Through a virtuosic array of short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers, Layli Long Soldier has created a brilliantly innovative text to examine histories, landscapes, her own writing, and her predicament inside national affiliations. “I am,” she writes, “a citizen of the United States and an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, meaning I am a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation—and in this dual citizenship I must work, I must eat, I must art, I must mother, I must friend, I must listen, I must observe, constantly I must live.” This strident, plaintive book introduces a major new voice in contemporary literature.

WHEREAS poetry should not only exist as easily digestible sound bites there exists Layli Long Soldier’s collection Whereas – which is beautiful, and heartbreaking, and absolutely one of the best books of 2017. Long Soldier takes the language of the official “apology” to Native Americans from the US government and proceeds to shred the complacency and racism of that same document as well as all previous treaties and “apologies” made to Native American and other indigenous tribes over time. The poem “38”, which ends the first section, is a masterwork and destroyed me for days after reading it.

I’m pulling for this one at the National Book Awards this month.

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn copy of this book.

mini-review · Readathon · stuff I read

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

30304222Summary from Goodreads:
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé uses political and pop-cultural references as a framework to explore 21st century black American womanhood and its complexities: performance, depression, isolation, exoticism, racism, femininity, and politics. The poems weave between personal narrative and pop-cultural criticism, examining and confronting modern media, consumption, feminism, and Blackness. This collection explores femininity and race in the contemporary American political climate, folding in references from jazz standards, visual art, personal family history, and Hip Hop. The voice of this book is a multifarious one: writing and rewriting bodies, stories, and histories of the past, as well as uttering and bearing witness to the truth of the present, and actively probing toward a new self, an actualized self. This is a book at the intersections of mythology and sorrow, of vulnerability and posturing, of desire and disgust, of tragedy and excellence.

Book #2 for Readathon! So much to unpack in this slim volume. Bravo, Morgan Parker!

Going to have to sit with this one a bit. It makes me itchy – both the good and uncomfortable kinds of itchy – and there is such rhythm to the lines without actual “meter.”

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn Copy.

 

mini-review · stuff I read

Poetry Will Save Your Life: A Memoir by Jill Bialosky

32620373Summary from Goodreads:
From critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author and poet Jill Bialosky comes an unconventional coming-of-age memoir organized around the forty-three remarkable poems that gave her insight, courage, compassion, and a sense of connection at pivotal moments in her life.

For Jill Bialosky, certain poems stand out like signposts along her life’s journey. These poems have contributed to her growth as a person, writer, poet, and thinker. Now, take this journey with Bialosky as she introduces you to each of these life-changing poems, recalling when she encountered each one, and how its importance and meaning to her has evolved over time.

Witness Jill turning to poetry in dire moments to restore her faith and cope with loss; there are poems she turns to for inspiration and consolation; poems for when she is angry or disillusioned, or when she wants to see into another person’s soul. While Jill’s personal stories animate each poem, they touch on many universal experiences and life events that all can relate to, from crises of faith to sexual awakening from becoming a parent to growing creatively as a poet and artist.

More than a creative chronicle of one woman’s life, Jill’s book celebrates the unique and enduring value of poetry as a means of conveying personal experience and as a source of comfort and connection.

Poetry Will Save Your Life is a blend of memoir and literary analysis, more on the memoir side. Bialosky illustrates the story of her life – her father’s death when she was small, growing up with her mother (trying desperately to remarry) and sisters, becoming a working woman in the 80s, marriage, losing a sister and her first two children – with the poems that found her over the course of her life. She provides some basic analysis or interpretation of each poem so even those new to reading poetry don’t have to worry. A lovely book about the power and love of words.

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn Copy of this book.