Friday, October 28, 2016

Arisa White's You're The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened - Review

My thoughts
Fearless and powerful. That's the only way to describe this. An important volume of poetry, especially in light of what continues to happen hear in the U.S., and worldwide, in regards to the LGBTQ community. I commend Arisa White on her bravery and poignancy.

Of course, I am drawn to poems centering on family and injustice. My first favorite was "Auntie." The story of a family member whose "sexuality" is secreted away and always glossed over or embellished.


I listen for you in these moments of touch,
declare through your friends what is not said.

I inventory looks, languishing on the sweet end 
of a woman's backside, her body, their eyes silk over
air we just breathed, blink and their lids rest
like water to shore, relishing as one does a kiss.

This orchestrated silence is viral; it heats
all parts until my throats fevers.
How do you manage this, auntie?

When your friends are around, your hands language
near her to confirm she's close: on her forearm,
the small of her back, you hold often, 
fingering notes to release perfect sound.

Together since the year of my birth,
yet you are pantomime in the wings
of our family's speech.

Why do you arch in shadows,
accept the shade eclipsing her face?

The holidays would be more gay
if we didn't ghost in dead air,

in wooden boxes, letters folded over and over again, in locked rooms

where shames are secretly arranged--

My second favorite "Gun(n)," which is dedicated to Sakia Gunn, a 15-year-old who was murdered for being gay in Newark, New Jersey in May 2003. I hear of such things occurring in our world and it breaks my heart. If Sakia would have had a gun, "I wold not know you" (line 2).

for Sakia Gunn

Sakia, if you had the weapon of your last name,
I would not know you. This steady scrape
against paper to transport fecund lament, never.
If in your hands the pearl-handled gun

my stepfather kept in the broom closet--
I'd give you the aim I practiced at twelve.
"Home is where the heart is"marks an
average man's forehead and the trashcan
is somewhere near his jewels.

If you brought me roses in high school,
wrapped in newspaper to protect me from thorns,
I would take them, and wash ink from my fingers
in the jeans and jersey flood of your girlboy body.
Let me be your girl.

4-evah 2 eternity onto my back.
Your finger's ballpoint end, again and again
practices the hear over i, and into the morning
we stash whispers where over thread, thread crosses.
I promise

I have impeccable aim.
Pulling a trigger loosens mustangs
in your veins. Piss into my mortar--an old war
recipe makes bullets complete. Let your shower
wash an asshole from the streets.

If you're shocked you life requires this exchange,
come into my arms, Sakia. Come into my arms.

As described below, the titles of these poems are from words used internationally as hate speech against gays and lesbians (there are notes at the end of the book explaining each definition). White's re-envisioning of the language to share "art, love, and understanding" is a touching tribute to a community that deserves so much love. Bravo!

About the Book
Angular, smart, and fearless, Arisa White’s newest collection takes its titles from words used internationally as hate speech against gays and lesbians, reworking, re-envisioning, and re-embodying language as a conduit for art, love, and understanding. “To live freely, observantly as a politically astute, sensually perceptive Queer Black woman is to be risk taker, at risk, a perceived danger to others and even dangerous to/as oneself,” writes poet Tracie Morris. “White’s attentive word substitutions and range of organized forms, lithe anecdotes, and disturbed resonances put us in the middle of living a realized, intelligent life of the senses.” You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened works through intersectional encounters with gender, identity, and human barbarism, landing deftly and defiantly in beauty.

Early Praise
This is what I’m talking about. The fierce truth, the gorgeous loneliness, the late-night bravery and the tender, tender heart. It’s the poetry of Arisa White and it’s divine in every sense. Let’s all talk about it.” – Daniel Handler, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

“Swiss army knives, scuttling crabs, pinball machines, HIV/AIDS, the West Side Highway, daisy breasts, racial slurs, kitchen sink scorch marks, and mustangs running through veins: through all the kaleidescoping nouns of White’s new collection, the starring roles are played by lust and roving hands and lovers and beloveds. These poems are nearly unblurbable: delicate yet tough, visceral and cerebral, innocent yet experienced, loving and longing, grotesque and hopeful: “…I drag our placenta behind us. Together/ can be restored with a blink.” Come for the lyrical mastery, stay for the god-level Eros. The third full-length collection by one of America’s most promising poets, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened is required reading for anyone who’s ever loved, been loved, or forgotten how.” – Amy King, The Missing Museum

“Arisa White’s You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened is a book whose true engine is love, and whose every poem, in all kinds of ways, reaches toward love. That in itself is astonishing, and to be praised. But add the formal playfulness, the rich music, the storytelling, and, perhaps especially, the sense of justice and humanity, and you’ll realize you’re holding a truly beautiful book in your hands.” – Ross Gay, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

“Arisa White sharpens her words against this unpredictable world we live in, with the poems in You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. In verse that is exhilarating and unexpected, White writes of race, of women loving women, of these all too human bodies we wear, of cities, of landscape. You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened is an assured and memorable book of poetry, one that provokes thought as much as it provokes a depth of feeling.” – Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

“Whether remembering a neglected friend or experiencing a sensual touch, Arisa White’s poems will take your breath away. They nestle into rich language then burst up and out like birds taking flight; so close you feel their heat and wings inside you. She traverses many landscapes, both physical and emotional, sometimes evoking a melancholy longing, at other times an eager passion. In either case, these are exquisite, finely crafted poems that are irresistible.” – Jewelle Gomez, The Gilda Stories: Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition

“Arisa White’s You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened makes us sweat, reflect, cry, and discover. With a deft utilization of prose poetry, lyric essay, and verse, White delivers a guide to learning our freedoms. You will probably have to reconfigure your definition of beauty after you read this book.” – Willie Perdomo, The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon

“There are not enough books like or near Arisa White’s new collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, addressing what it is to be young, Lesbian and Queer and Black and tender and unapologetic and erotic. In these poems, I hear Pat Parker’s wit and challenge, and the insistence of Audre Lorde demanding that we look, listen, celebrate and change.” – Pamela Sneed, Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom Than Slavery

Photo Credit: Nye’ Lyn Tho

About The Poet
Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess, Post Pardon, and Black Pearl. She was selected by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the 2010 Hot Pink List and is a member of the PlayGround writers’ pool; her play Frigidare was staged for the 15th Annual Best of Play Ground Festival. Recipient of the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House summer residency at Washington College in Maryland, Arisa has also received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Juniper Summer Writing Institute, Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2005 and 2014, her poetry has been published widely and is featured on the recording WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet.


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