Poems for teenagers and adults that cast a scrutinizing eye on United States history and current events while being hopeful about the future.
Gorman’s opening poem, “Ship’s Manifest,” lays out her intentions: “This book is a message in a bottle. / This book is a letter. / This book does not let up. / This book is awake. / This book is a wake. / For what is a record but a reckoning?” Gorman delivers subtle turns of phrase alongside playful yet purposeful punning. The book tackles grief without succumbing to melancholy. It earnestly charts the challenges its collective “we” must navigate, including mask mandates and Covid-19 restrictions; social isolation; the environmental negligence of past generations; and the civil unrest following the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. A “dark girl” dreams and skillfully steers the collective “we” point of view in these poems, which marks a sea change in the United States and, subsequently, in contemporary American poetry. Mostly, the collective “we” point of view adheres. Occasionally it reads as monotonous or prosaic. But variation exists in the diversity of concrete or visual poems—shaped on the page to look like flags, whales, buildings, and text bubbles—and the intricate range of people, generational insights, and historical footnotes populating the pages. The collection overflows with teachable moments you can imagine quoted at graduation ceremonies and special events for years to come. It’s not a book to be read in one sitting but to be savored and revisited. By the time readers are finished, they’ll have discovered Lucille Clifton, Don Mee Choi, M. NourbeSe Philip, and a dizzying host of poets and thinkers that inspired these verses. The poems don’t preen to prove their intelligence; rather, they’re illuminated by it. Gorman’s impulse to enlighten readers rather than exclude them is the book’s guiding force. With generosity and care, Gorman takes the role of the poet seriously: “The poet transcends 'telling' or 'performing' a story & / instead remembers it, touches, tastes, traps its vastness.”
An inspired anthem for the next generation—a remarkable poetry debut.