An inspired anthem for the next generation—a remarkable poetry debut.

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CALL US WHAT WE CARRY

POEMS

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.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-46506-6

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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