Tag Archives: Poems

Don’t Call Us Dead:​ Poems by Danez Smith

Don't Call Us Dead Title: Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems
Author: Danez Smith
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977856
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I think for the longest time I avoided reading poetry as a genre because I was scared. Prose will kill you. Let me correct that: Good prose will kill you. Great prose will leave you bereft. Or the other way around, but once poetry gets into your veins, you are an addict my friend! There is no way out of it. I was introduced to Neruda. Never say never also might work brilliantly as an adage.

Circa 2018. I love poetry. I love poems that seize my heart and wring it with ease. Sometimes brutally. I failed to keep my promise. Why am I saying all this? Well, because I have just finished reading a brilliant book of poems and I want to let you know how I feel about it. The book in question: “Don’t Call Us Dead” by Danez Smith.

This collection isn’t an easy one to read. If you are planning to read it at a stretch or even in one-sitting, my recommendation is you don’t. Smith doesn’t make poetry floral or sweet-smelling or even bearable for that matter. When it comes to me, I agree with him. Poetry like most form of art only reflects what exists around us and should with very good reason.

“…paradise is a world where everything
is a sanctuary & nothing is a gun…” 

Just by reading these two lines, I was moved like I haven’t been moved in a while. The idea that every place is sanctuary (so remote, isn’t it?) and that nothing is a gun couldn’t have rung truer than it does now. The now that we live in that Danez writes about so and that hits so hard.

Smith’s voice is much needed for everyone, but more so for the black men, for the young black man, the gay man, the kind who have endured a history of oppression and violence or have heard of it. It is for everyone who wants to change the world by reading and understanding and that empathy shines through Danez’s poems. The beauty in all of them is striking, almost heartbreaking even.

Take this one for example, where the loneliness of the gay man is stark and evident, universal that it strikes a chord one way or the other.

“everyone on the app says they hate the app but no one stops

I sit on the train, eyeing men, begging myself to talk to them

 He whispers his name into my lower mouth
I sing a song about being alone”

Danez Smith does not shy away from expressing. Some poems run into pages and lots of pages (and for good reasons) while others are explained briefly and they are as effective as any other poem in the collection. This isn’t micro-poetry. This isn’t slam poetry. It is life, that seeps, bleeds ad yearns through the veins and the pores.

“Don’t Call Us Dead” is set in a time – our time, which is equal parts scary, liberating and melancholic. Let me remove my proverbial hat and tip it for Smith.

 

 

 

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A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays, and Poetry by Grace Paley. Edited by Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley.

A Grace Paley Reader Title: A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays, and Poetry
Author: Grace Paley
Edited by Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley
Publisher:Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN:978-0374165826
Genre: Anthology
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Grace Paley is one of those writers for which you to devote a lot of time and mind space. The reason I say this: the narrators and characters of her stories will not leave you. Her essays will haunt you long after you have finished reading them. Her verse will stay, whether you like it or not. To me, she is one of the finest I have read this year (I have of course read her works earlier as well – but scattered). I think this book also is the definite collection if you need an introduction to her work, before you move on to other books by her.

“A Grace Paley Reader” has a lot of omissions from her earlier works, but I guess as an editor they have to choose what to put and what to remove. Nonetheless, to me the span of her work mattered and this anthology touched on almost every genre in which she wrote. My favourite essays though are “A Midrash on Happiness” and also “Other People’s Children” which are very unsettling and yet so comforting – the paradox is hard to explain.

But then the sort of writer Grace Paley was, it is just very difficult to ignore her as a reader. “A Conversation with my Father” will tear you up in no time and you would wonder if a short story can do that, as it already has. Her economy of words, and at the same time the effortlessness of her prose keeps you stunned. Paley was also a feminist and that is reflective in her poems such as “Anti-Love Poem” or “Is There a Difference Between Men and Women” and my personal favourite “Letter to my Daughter”. She can do anything if you ask me and does in most of her work.

The introduction by George Saunders sums up her work beautifully in this one sentence: “Grace Paley will live in the minds of the readers she has moved, and in the minds of those she will yet move”. Need I say more after this?

 

Rapture: Poems by Sjohnna McCray

41I2Iqf5gvL Title: Rapture: Poems
Author: Sjohnna McCray
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977375
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 72
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

There comes a time while reading poetry that you realize the poem/s is/are speaking with you. And that is the time you know that poet is for you. The same happened to me as I finished reading “Rapture” by Sjohnna McCray. This collection of poems is about desire, identity and memory. I say it with such ease but it is not an easy read at all – there is something so discomforting about these poems that they will make you think about your life in a whole new way – for those who face these issues and also for ones who don’t face them at all.

“Rapture” charts the growth of a person from childhood to adulthood and that too through poems – various poems that sometimes feel disjointed and then most of the time make perfect sense when put together. The histories of his parents (Korean mother and an American father who served during the Vietnam War) and that of his own are raw, pulsating throughout the book in the garb of poetry that will burn and break your heart. There is grief and celebration. There is also grace and redemption and might I add also a lot of guilt in its pages.

“Rapture” also asks a lot of difficult questions about identity – relationships between mothers and sons and in turn learns how to perceive oneself. McCray takes a third person view and his personal view (these poems are after all his story) and in doing so he maps the human body, relationships and how we skim through things and never say what we truly feel.

What forces love to become this difficult? Why does the body fail us when we so don’t want it to? How does a child realize love? He asks these questions through his poems and at times I was extremely uncomfortable reading this collection, till it grew on me and became second-skin.

Nejma by Nayyirah Waheed

Nejma by Nayyirah Waheed Title: Nejma
Author: Nayyirah Waheed
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
ISBN: 978-1494493325
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 178
Source: Kindle Unlimited Library
Rating: 4 Stars

Another glorious read by Nayyirah Waheed and she manages to strike yet another chord with me. I mean one book after the other and I just want to lap and take everything she has to offer. Her words are deliciously bitter, lonely and angst-ridden. All they want is an audience – ears that will take it all in and reflect. Souls that will be moved and perhaps prompted to do something about the atrocities of the world.

“Nejma” by Nayyirah Waheed is a poetry collection which is kinda overlooked in the shadow of “salt” but you will definitely not be disappointed when you give this one a go. The poems come from a place of suffering, of introspection and then they sweep you to places of the heart and mind that you never thought you’d venture.

Waheed’s writing is so lucid that it seeps into your soul and I am not even exaggerating about this. I think every poem was so different and unique that it had me wondering – that she can go on and on and on and I would love to turn the pages and soak it all in. The poems are structured again like they were in “salt” – the poem, followed by a word – so it seems that the poem describes the word – which it really does.

“Nejma” is a collection of poems that range from the extremely angry to the tiredly gracious to the most subtle that breaks your heart – over and over again. Might I also add that it is because of independent publishers such as Create Space, we get to read these gems. The poetry that sticks is the kind you always go back to – reliving those words and wanting more. Three cheers to them and to the power of words that keep us alive – day by day.

salt. by Nayyirah Waheed

salt by Nayyirah Waheed Title: salt.
Author: Nayyirah Waheed
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
ISBN: 978-1492238287
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 258
Source: Borrowed from Kindle Unlimited
Rating: 5 Stars

Once in a while you read something that shakes your core. It jolts you out of the mundane existence and makes you question everything and everyone around you. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever felt so compelled by art? Nayyirah Waheed’s poetry did that to me. It made me want to drop everything, leave everything behind and go and find myself. It had that kind of an impact. I am this close to perhaps even doing that.

I don’t know why it felt the way it did, but I honestly believe that if any work of art can drive you to this point or to tears (which also happened by the way) then it is an indication that you wake up, smell the coffee and do something about what is going on – in your life and also to perhaps make a better change in someone else’s life as well.

“salt” is a collection of poems by Waheed on the condition of being black, feeling alienated, how the heart is empty and bereft, how does one heal after all, and of various other matters of the heart and soul. Each poem comes with a word at the bottom – the poem defines the word – gives it meaning and that is the format of this collection.

I don’t know what more to say about this magnificent collection of poems. I have no words, honestly. I don’t even know if I would be doing the book any justice at all by talking about it. “salt” is the kind of collection of poems that will rip your heart out, toss it a little, turn it a bit, throw it far away, make you realize what you have lost, make you fetch it, repair it and let it heal. A stunning collection of poems.