Thursday, April 23, 2020

becoming. | Renaada Williams

This short poetry collection by Renaada Williams floats around themes of suicide, depression, Black pride, and heartbreak. The poems are pithy and often broken up word-by-word. It took me fewer than thirty minutes to read through about 150 pages of content.

I'll preface this by saying that I did not enjoy the book. Many of the poems read like the vague sentences about heartbreak shared around on Facebook by people afraid to be more specific. I think that the poems each could have been more powerful were they separated by instances of detailed storytelling, but as it stands, the collection is cliched, monotonous, and saccharine. Had this taken the form of a poem-a-day calendar (and thus given readers more time to digest the quips of 2012-Tumblr poetry), perhaps the speaker's message would have been impactful. 

In the majority of the collection, there is one speaker addressing two interlocutors: one is the "you" that broke the speaker's heart, the other is the "you" who can relate to her heartbreak. Later, another emerges: the "us" of the Black community. This section had tangible feeling and gave truth to the speaker's experiences, and it was nice to (if only momentarily) diverge from the monotony of the rest of the collection.

Otherwise, every other line is either wildly self-congratulatory (the back cover reads: "...through her books she seeks to enlighten others while helping bandage their emotional wounds") or shallow in the name of being oceanic. It isn't raw; it's over-done.

Perhaps this is a worthwhile read if you enjoy mantra-like Instagram affirmations. It wasn't for me.

2/5 stars. I received this book electronically from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This review is also posted on Goodreads, NetGalley, and Medium.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The She Book V.2 | Tanya Markul

The She Book v.2 is a conversation between a narrator and an addressee that is sometimes herself and sometimes another woman and sometimes the entire female gender. The poems are numbered in sequential order (though some have a postscript title as well), each working to address some mix of grief, trauma, and womanhood. The book closes with a poem to correspond with each month of the year.

I wanted so badly to like this book. Some of these poems are impactful and honest (in particular, I enjoyed 119, 138, and 171), but unfortunately the momentum of these few do not make up for the sludging high-school-counselor-office-poster-meets-Homegoods-quote-a-day-agenda-meets-Instagram-self-help-guru feel of the rest of the collection.

(Note that it wasn’t until after I read the book did I learn that this is exactly the persona the author has created for herself. At the time of this review, Tanya Markul has 99.8K followers on her @thugunicorn account and 31.8K followers on her @tanyamarkul account — she posts her poetry and advice on both.)

The forced rhyming detracts from the sentiment of the poems and the organization of the overall collection is disjointed. I wish that it had been organized with a more visible structure, such as grouping all of the “sister,” “woman,” “girl,” or “you” poems together to show a shift in interlocutor. Instead, the poems are arranged in a near-nonsensical mélange that suggests they were placed in the collection in the order that she wrote them.

Scattered throughout the collection are the recurring motifs of mermaids, midwives, the four elements, altars, scars, stars, and “blessed are”s (forgive the rhyming — the fact that many of these words rhyme may, quite frankly, be why they are used so frequently). I wanted to interrogate them: what is the significance of speaking to the sea and being a creature within it? being a mother versus a midwife? the relevance of religion and prayer?

Yet, this book seems beyond interrogation. It’s Goddess-Warrior poetry that doesn’t take responsibility for the content it’s promoting. It’s holier-than-thou and self-congratulatory.

I am reminded, here, of a memoir I read a few years ago that was lauded for its deep-dive into the author’s history with eating disorders and poor body image. Rather than speaking about her experiences with any semblance of verisimilitude or reality, the author often opted for cliches. Doing so is not powerful or resonating. It is a cop-out.

Similarly, THE SHE BOOK V.2 opts so often for cliches and absolute language that the message grows hollow, contradictory, and self-indulgent. It is the sort of hopeful that spoils into saccharine.

It is unconvincing.

It wasn’t for me.

1 star out of a possible 5. I received this book electronically from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This review is also posted on Goodreads, NetGalley, and Medium.
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