BECAUSE WHEN GOD IS TOO BUSY: HAITI, ME, & THE WORLD, GINA ATHENA ULYSSE

“Less is known of this black female rage. There is usually no place for it.” – Gina Athena Ulysse

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I live for the collections that rage and question, that are unabashed in their depiction of language and culture, and that reclaim what has been stolen. One such collection is Gina Athena Ulysse’s Because When God is Too Busy: Haiti, Me, and the World. Combing photographs, poems, and creole chants, here we have a collection that is uncut in its desire to name and take back what it means to be a black Haitian woman in the 21st century. Because When God is Too Busy places the body as center as it draws inspiration from family, history, and politics. Every poem is dangerous in its attempt to unearth the silence inside of us, and the speaker tells us from the beginning that she “ha[s] a complicated relationship with silence” (20).

Because these poems are a shout against shame, they are raw and empowering to read. In the poem “Circles of Power Children of Resistance, or My Rules of Engagement” the speaker asks “why is it that everywhere we go in the world / darker skinned people are always at the bottom / always at the end of the line?” (78). Each poem in Because When God is Too Busy pokes and prods, asking the questions that many have failed to voice. The speaker exposes the years of trauma and oppression her and her people continue to experience: “blood has been shedding in South Africa black blood colored blood” (45). The poems oftentimes break form, and utilize heavy repetition, lending themselves to being read out loud.

In the poem “Parallels My County’s in the Newspaper” the speaker expresses her outrage at the question “Where you from?” that oftentimes comes from people who wish to other her. The complex relationship the speaker has with her country is exposed in this poem as she attempts to reconcile her love for Haiti while acknowledging the following: “yes, we have a history of fucking over our own . . . I’ve come to see that my country’s fucked up” (58). The tension the speaker feels is also shown in the choppy line breaks and displaced chunks of texts.

Because When God is Too Busy is split into four sections. The cover is stunning, and so are the photographs in the collection. The photos expose the ruin, the beauty, and the art work in Haiti. I love how these poems are written, and how powerful this collection is as a whole.

Buy Because When God is Too Busy: Haiti Me, & The World here.

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Wesleyan University Press: “Wesleyan University Press has an editorial program that focuses on poetry, music, dance, science fiction studies, film-TV, and Connecticut history and culture. Publishing in its current form since 1957, Wesleyan University Press has published an internationally renowned poetry series, collecting five Pulitzer Prizes, a Bollingen, and two National Book Awards in that one series alone. The mission of Wesleyan University Press is to develop and maintain a sound and vigorous publishing program that serves the academic ends and intellectual life of the University.”

(Photo of Because When God is Too Busy courtesy of Wesleyan University Press)

View Ulysse on TEDx below.

MANNISH TONGUES, JAYY DODD

“Infinite Black mothers / wailing in daylight for safe return / infinite Black children / breathing broken & wild to be put down” (“Infinite Monkey Theorem” lines 4-7).

tumblr_oite0owu4z1ubxemko1_1280This week, I’ve been spending time with Mannish Tongues, a debut poetry collection by Jayy Dodd. The haunting and beautiful poems inside Mannish Tongues are nothing short of stunning. These poems offer readers a new way to examine the black body and to bear witness to survival. The prologue of Mannish Tongues includes a quote from Essex Hemphill that states “I’m faced daily with choosing violence / or a demeanor that saves every other life / but my own.” These poems rebel against silence, becoming a powerful testament for speech and language, for empowerment, and for the identities we inhabit.

From the beginning of Mannish Tongues to the end, Dodd’s mastery of language is electrifying. There’s a natural rhythm to Dodd’s words, and the play on form keeps readers on their toes. In the poem “There’s Something bout being Raised in Church” Dodd writes: “our knees know something bout aching, / bout singing in jail cells” (lines 28-29). Through this poem, the speaker examines the church and its role in their upbringing, while also reflecting on the importance of language: “Every language I learned was in verse, translated / across all kinds of salvation” (lines 7-8). The careful articulation and weaving together of family, history, and discourse is what makes reading Mannish Tongues so compelling.

The strong voice in Mannish Tongues places the body front and center, forcing readers to bear witness to the consequences of the identities we hold. The poem “Physical Education” challenges our ideas of manhood. It is written as a prose poem and utilizes white space, giving readers a chance to slow down and really take in each word:”He will learn to not cry in the echo of middle school laughter. He will know bruised throat & swollen wrist as rough housing.” This poem is just one example of the astounding fearlessness in Dodd’s voice and in this collection as a whole.

Mannish Tongues is split into six sections: Confessions, Prayers, Interrogations, Testimonies, Myths, and Eulogies. When I interviewed Dodd, they mentioned one of their influences as Danez Smith. Both Mannish Tongues and [Insert] Boy leave you a little more broken after you’ve read them, but for good reason. This is an important collection to read, and worth every second of readers’ time.

Check out my interview with Dodd here.

Buy Mannish Tongues here.

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Platypus Press: “Platypus Press is a boutique publisher based in England. We seek to unearth innovative contemporary poetry and prose from a broad variety of voices and experiences.”

(photo of Mannish Tongues courtesy of Platypus Press)

UGLY TIME, SARAH GALVIN

GALVIN-COVER-FOR-WEBIt’s not everyday that I get to read a collection as hilarious as Ugly Time by Sarah Galvin. I have so much appreciation for the humor in this book. It seriously saved my life this week. Upon opening Ugly Time, I couldn’t have known that I had 90 pages about human genitalia, cowboys, rubber band ukulele’s, and lots and lots of butts to look forward to. The genius in Galvin’s writing is that she is able to balance all of these elements while staying true to the emotional turmoil the speaker feels at various points in the collection. Most of the poems in Ugly Time are short, funny, and sassy, making them perfect for when you’re having an especially shitty week. These poems are like that really blunt and sarcastic friend you want to have with you at a party when things go haywire real quick.

In the poem “Why ‘Lexicon Devil’ By the Germs is Better than the Entire Indie Genre'” the speaker states: “From building a garage-sized house wallpapered with gay porn I learned I can do anything. This may be why I tried to kill Donald Trump with my house keys, a self defense technique I learned from Oprah.” This poem captures all of the feels associated with having Donald Trump as president right now. The closer the poem gets to the end, the more satisfaction one feels about imagining taking out Donald Trump with house keys: “To finish him off, we had to hold hands with children dressed in 1980’s tennis tracksuits.” The amusing and random images, coupled with the political message in this poem makes this collection hard not to love.

The charming wit and humor doesn’t slow down in Ugly Time. Neither does the vulgarity, which is oftentimes coupled with weird and wacky images. In the poem “You Deserve an Entourage” the speaker states “You deserve an entourage, and anyone who doesn’t see that can set their dick on fire.” This is a speaker who actually gives no fucks, who does not ask or need your permission, who is so unabashedly herself that nothing will stop her. This is what makes Ugly Time so refreshing, and why everyone needs to read this damn book.

Galvins’ poems will shock you. They are meant to. Every page in Ugly Time delivers a punch, making this one of the most refreshing collections I’ve read. When choosing whether to laugh or die, here is a group of poems that choose to laugh over and over again.

Check out my interview with Galvin here.

Buy Ugly Time here.

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Gramma Press: “Established in 2016, Gramma Poetry is an independent press that publishes a diverse array of poetry, both online and in print. Gramma seeks to broaden its audience and to be poetry ambassadors by collaborating with people and organizations in other art mediums. Gramma Editors are based in Seattle, Portland, Boise, Boston, and Berlin.”

(photo of Ugly Time courtesy of Gramma Press)

IRL, TOMMY PICO

IRL_COVER.inddHappy March, friends! I hope everyone is enjoying a (hopefully) quick end to the cold weather. I’m ready for spring, and I started this month out in the most refreshing way: By reading IRL by Tommy Pico. This hilarious and dizzying collection is a great read for anyone looking for a unique spin on poetry. Composed as one long epic poem that is written as a text message, IRL follows Teebs, a queer and Native American boy as he attempts to navigate the world. The language is oftentimes disjointed and messy, and the poem is written in a stream of consciousness kind of way. The speaker effortlessly moves in and out of topics. At points he utilizes Beyoncé lyrics, text message acronyms (LOL), and conversation on Grindr, as well lengthy reflections about Muse. Then, he’ll switch to talking about his Native American ancestry, and offers readers an emotionally compelling discussion about his family and the reservation he grew up in.

I enjoyed IRL because the language is fresh and interesting. I like the choppiness of the writing and how it’s used to evoke the anxieties of the speaker: “Surely Muse will want / to kiss me bc I appear / disinterested in kissing” (36). The pop culture references, which are not commonly used in poems, are utilized to introduce the world of Teebs, which is social media obsessed and ridden with hipster ideals: “Tweets my sushi brings / all the boys to the yard” (50). This is definitely a collection that will be enjoyed by millennial readers because they will catch the social media and texting language it presents.

I also appreciated the way the speaker reflects on the California reservation he grew up in. The anger Teebs feels about the mistreatment of his family and people is fully expressed within the poem. Teebs also seems to struggle with honoring his ancestors and dealing with the guilt he feels about leaving the reservation: “In a poem Sherman Alexie / gives me permission / to leave the reservation I / cut my long hair” (46). The contradictions this speaker feels are shown through the jumbled nature of the writing, and the sadness he expresses is raw and honest: “Kill / the Indian, Save the Man – Sow / a shame so deep it arrives / when I do, it waits for me” (73). Pico does an outstanding job of balancing these contradictions and ideas in IRL, while staying true to the form and style of the collection.

IRL is about 100 pages of poetry. It’s a long, continuous poem with few breaks. When I first opened IRL, I thought I would hate it, but Pico’s writing style and voice keeps you reading further and further. The language will feel jumbled at first, but there’s a rhythm and movement to Pico’s words that is addicting and fun. The unique voice  is worth checking out – and I think readers will appreciate the wittiness and humor in IRL.

Buy IRL here.

*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about Birds LLC: “Birds, LLC is an independent poetry press based out of Austin, Minneapolis, New York, and Raleigh. Specializing in close author relationships, Birds, LLC believes that great books are a collaboration of editors and authors. Birds, LLC supports readings, events, and podcasts for its authors, believing that poetry demands a human voice to read it, and an audience to hear it.”

(photo of IRL courtesy of Birds LLC)