You're the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. Arisa White. Augury Books. New York, New York. 2016.
"...she speaks and the want is forever need."
from Hold Your Part Of A Deal
Sometimes Today's book of poetry is simply overwhelmed by poetry. Arisa White just made me hold my breath.
White comes from a long line of women who define strength and courage. Today's book of poetry is fairly sure White has read, absorbed and respects Judy Grahn, Eillen Myles and Lenore Kendall. But we are almost certain she's read Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde and Alice Dunbar Nelson.
Chance Is Based On True Events
Walk down the street, everybody
knows your need to touch her.
Smile a smile in a smile,
and feel that kind of marathon.
Swing on that spine
between your birth days
until sleep wants you.
Have the body
with its flames
and its rooms to cry
Until the war is out
of its actors and casualties,
be grizzly on the floor.
rarely do we look up.
There are kisses and hugs
above us--kisses and hugs.
Swear on old and new
that the wind shakes
the picture admired too long.
Take a chance
be houndish and address
her in stranger shapes.
Lover her to the crunch,
to a barbaric end
with song and spittle,
pinball and bric-a-brac.
Arisa White's poems are about women in a world that is rarely sympathetic to their concerns or needs. She writes about women loving women and the challenging spirals of racism, sexism and ignorance the spiral around gay love. She does it with considerable panache.
Today's book of poetry wants to talk about the poetry more than the politic, which we have total respect for. But Today's book of poetry is a poetry blog and Arisa White writes some killer poetry. She can be sharp as the razor held by a lover who is doing a trim. White is quick to take us to the most tender ground amid the violence of love and lust.
When They Say
you are pretty, they come with pretty things to match you. believe
them like you are the fourteen year old who's taken into an alley,
gasoline poured in your honor, you are drenched in flames
Was I black and ugly?
pretty are you to officials who order your dissident pink
extinct of eagles. just and blind in their examination, they flip
the switch to make you forget yourself celestial and rising
Was I crazy in love?
you are the drug, the pretty to the schizophrenic who snorts
coke off your pubic bone, takes a swig of Cola, and his friends
watch him insert vacuum attachments into your snatch
Why did he do that to me?
pretty girl you are whose uncle comes for a visit and molests
you at the dinner table. you are the pretty mother loving
you years later who says, We all must go through it
Why is this what they leave for me?
so your and pretty, so tight you are virgin mythologized.
left broken to cup the spilling of a positive penis, from your
edges comes no cure, your adolescence initiated with AIDS
Who would touch me like this?
pretty clit clipped and sewn, military shotgun shattered
vaginal walls, your people cannot stand the smell of your shards.
you are bruised pretty to miscarry an undesirable girl
Why am I here?
you are the gush who never stops bleeding, whose ovaries
scream and eggs drop as they please, your uterus diagnosed
hysterical. you are without the possibility of gardens
Karen, you are holy ova, she-she serenade, potent dap and dynahara,
bornship and portal, worshipped lotus, you are liminal wonder,
helicun, you are vivakiss, kush, fragrant red-deep, a woke-parade--
believe, you are the most beautiful thing that happened.
Sometimes Today's book of poetry just feels sorry he's a damned man. Arisa White has all the anger she has earned but that's not the oil that cooks these meals. White is working towards a bigger understanding. Today's book of poetry sees hope in these poems.
Our morning read was orchestrated by Kathryn, our Jr. Editor. The arresting poems in You're the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened bounced around our offices in protest, in celebration and ultimately some laughter. Arisa White's poems come at you without apology, straight for the central cortex where White is more than happy to play around with your equilibrium.
White addresses how hard it is to give and receive love, how hard it is to sometimes recognize love. She addresses love and loss and death and disease. But all of it with a voice we can easily recognize as human/humane, hurt/hopeful and smart.
Having sex during menses, in a bonded relationship,
is a very powerful way of sharing blood. Why do you
think there has been such a taboo? Why were you steered
away from the blood mysteries for eons? Perhaps because
it would open doors of knowledge that the gods did not wish
you to have. Blood contains the archives of personal, planetary,
and celestial experience. When blood is experienced in a sexual
union, you are flooded with waves of knowledge, much of it
beyond your present ability to understand and integrate.
Eureka freeze, Marciniak puts "Shebang" before our brains,
and bless you. You've been marked on the neck and soles, too.
I have my same rituals: hot bath and cayenne tea, Legally Blonde
and OG Kush. Randy's warmed, you're strapped on. You set
a spell with your M-i-double s-i-double s-i-double p--I'm ludicrous
mayflies. We go toward streetlights, Shell signs, aim for fireworks, fanatic
for any moon, our lives risked for good intentions--doing it in the middle
of the street. This is your house, Mary O, and your part in these curtains.
Arisa White's poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work - Poetry.
Today's book of poetry isn't female, black or gay. It doesn't matter a whit, good poetry jumps over every stupid barrier we throw in its' way.
Arisa White burns.
Photo: Nye’ Lyn Tho
ABOUT THE AUTHORArisa White is a Cave Canem fellow, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the author of the chapbooks Black Pearl and Post Pardon, the second of which was adapted into an opera, as well as the full-length collections Hurrah’s Nest and A Penny Saved. Arisa has received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Rose O’Neill Literary House, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She is a 2013-2014 recipient of an Investing in Artists grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation and a BFA faculty advisor at Goddard College in Vermont.
BLURBSSwiss 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
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
Arisa White ups the ante with this bold and visceral collection of striking lyrics, bold and honest. It’s a kind of song, truth be told, and these poems truth indeed be tolled.
—Kazim Ali, Sky Ward
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
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
Arisa White’s smart, angular, precocious and sexy third collection is filled with lithe anecdotes and disturbed resonances of how to negotiate a full life in everyday environs. These crafted, knowing poems put us in the middle of the room of living a realized, intelligent life of the senses. White’s attentive word substitutions and range of organized forms refreshes the reader at each page. 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. White writes: I shake this heart to get the last coin out, the last folded bill where you wrote “Do Not Spend.” We feel that last coin drop, like the last mic of the MC. Throwing her caution to the wind, you should spend: spend time with the tender exchanges in these poetic jewels.
—Tracie Morris, handholding: 5 kinds
Video: Velro Readings
Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher. They are shown here for publicity and review purposes. For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
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