Electric Arches

electric arches

I don’t put a lot of content out on Twitter, but what I do enjoy is following individuals that are smart, vocal, and diverse. One of these voices is Eve L. Ewing, sociologist and educational specialist from the University of Chicago. She drew my attention mainly for her opinions on school choice and school closures, but eventually I discovered that she was also an accomplished poet and writer as well. I was brave and tweeted at her, requesting an ARC of her book, and she directed me to the right person to obtain a copy. This honest review is provided in return for this glorious book that was sent to me by her publishing house.

When I read books like this, written by POC and WOC, I am often reminded of the distinction between something that is about you, something that is for you, and something that is available to you. Something that is about you is readily identifiable; you feel seen, you feel heard, it’s as if you are reading about yourself on the page. Something that is for you is you-adjacent. It could be about something that does or might affect you, or about a place where you live or an industry in which you work. It’s for you in that the subject could apply to your life. Then the things that are available to you could be either of the previous, but alone it is simply something that is accessible to you for your general consumption.

Samantha Irby’s works encompass all three of these things simultaneously for me. In her books Meaty and We Are Never Meeting In Real Life I find things that are about me (general malaise, introvertedness, avoidance of people, poverty), for me (cohabitation, relocation, family relationships), and available to me (WOC experience, LGBT experience). As a white woman reading the work of a WoC it essential that my reading of this work find those divisions so that my commentary can be informed and honest. There are things I can speak to, and others that I cannot outside of my own reactions to the stories told.

So after reading Ms. Ewing’s work I have just three reflections that I feel should endear you to her work and encourage you to buy and read it.

  1. This book is a collection of poetry and prose that will give you a window into the world and life of a black woman. If you are not a black woman, these will feel unfamiliar, but if you care about black people, these stories are essential to hear. They are available to you, and you should read them and learn/enjoy them.
  2. The writing is so evocative and vivid that you will see these visions, you will be standing on the streets of Chicago, you’ll be wondering at the hair in the tub. I love writing that makes my mind become a movie reel. Ewing’s writing will absolutely transport you and you will be thankful for the ride.
  3. One of the stories has a small girl using a futuristic machine to call into the past to get knowledge from ancestors about how to alleviate the plight of the black population, and the woman from the past just laughs at their question, at their search for something that seems to be eternal – the distrust and exclusion of black people from society at large. That story was one of the many that stuck with me from this work of art, and makes me want to work even harder to help find an answer to that girl’s question.

This short livre finds its place among the other voices sounding in literature right now: Gay, Irby, Adichie, Smith, Ajayi, and more, that allow the voices of black women to inform, educate, liberate, and resonate within all of us. Whether their writing is for, about, or simply available to us, it should be seen as valuable and you should run, not walk, to enjoy every moment. Electric Arches, by Eve L. Ewing – go get you some.

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce

beyonce

I am not usually the biggest fan of poetry. I didn’t read carefully enough about this book and so when it arrived and my husband picked it up to see what it was and exclaimed “hey, it’s poetry!” my spirits fell. I am not nearly smart enough for poetry, or maybe it’s that I’m not patient enough for poetry. I’m definitely not something enough for poetry…most of the time.

When I read books of poetry it feels like I am speed dating, looking for one that speaks to me. I’m looking to be inspired, to find understanding or be understood. While books take me on journeys, I expect poetry to reflect myself back to me but in more pretentious and inspirational form. I expect poetry to tell me what I’ve been so I can say “hey, I can relate to that.” I expect poetry to tell me what I could be so I can say “omg I feel so connected and motivated, my brain is ready to grow and be more intelligent.”

When I read books of poetry, I imagine that I feel a lot like people who don’t “get” jazz. It’s all good if it’s Ella Fitzgerald or Louis Armstrong but sometimes jazz gets tough. Sometimes jazz gets weird. Sometimes it’s because we just don’t understand and sometimes it’s just that the jazz is bad and is hiding behind the idea that people just don’t understand.

So when I read Morgan Parker’s collection I knew that my personal experience was not black enough to understand all of what she was saying. My experience was also not urban enough, and I mean that not as alluding to black but to literally mean cities. I have never been to Los Angeles or New York, and while I’ve been to Chicago a few times I am intelligent enough to know that living there is drastically different from visiting or observing from afar. In addition to race and location, I felt that a majority of my life experiences kept the soul of this collection just out of my reach.

I understood the messages though. I understood what she was saying. If I had spent more time with each poem, pouring over them like a fan of modern art might at a museum, I am sure my appreciation would grow, like how you might have to listen to John Coltrane over and over until something clicks. I think Parker’s writing is the jazz that I may not understand, but it not so new age that understanding could not be achieved.

I appreciated how the scattered Beyonce poems humanized the artist. How amazing it is to be denied the right to say “I’m tired” simply because if you did you would no longer be considered to be a god. The poems about Beyonce were very good, and I think they are an excellent companion to Lemonade; the idea that black women are human and not just pieces on a game board for our amusement or general use is one that must be shouted loudly and to the heavens.

Give this book a try. I am glad that I sat down and listened.