Today I’m happy to welcome Emma Eden Ramos to Diary of an Eccentric to review Arisa White’s new poetry collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. If you’re interested in White’s inspiration for the collection, I invite you to check out the guest post that appeared here last month. Now, here’s Emma’s thoughts on the book:
You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened by Arisa White is a poetry collection I wish existed when I was a teenager. If asked to describe the collection in a nutshell, I’d describe it as a combination of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Ani DiFranco’s “Not a Pretty Girl,” and Adrienne Rich’s A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far.
White begins her collection with a meditation on language.
There are little words
that can fit in little places
if you say them small enough. (p.11)
This poem, titled “Tail,” is a gateway to a collection that reminds us that words and language, in general, can be reworked and reclaimed.
In You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, Arisa White takes us on a poetic journey through the world as it is experienced by many of us in the LGBTQ community. Many of the poems are titled with words and phrases that are considered offensive by many. One poem, for example, is titled “Mashing Cookies.” The expression, according to Urban Dictionary, refers to, “When two females rub their hotboxes together with their legs in a scrissor-like formation.” The action of “Mashing Cookies” isn’t so different from heteronormative intercourse. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the act is made to sound perverse when, in fact, there is nothing perverse about it. In her poem titled “Mashing Cookies,” White writes,
Not all of us are lesbians on this island circled by orcas.
We’ve come because we’ve been nesting stories,
hollow voices that need time to season. We all need
to loot our minds for the woman who surrendered to wolves. (p. 68)
As with many of the other poems in You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, White challenges the language that has sullied the physical experience. Hopefully, readers will think twice before perpetuating stigma when referring to non-heteronormative sexuality.
You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened is a powerful collection that succeeds in empowering those of us who have been silenced by stigma. It is a collection that could bring comfort and a sense of empowerment to anyone who has encountered prejudice because of their sexuality.
Thank you, Emma, for sharing your thoughts on what seems to be a powerful, thought-provoking collection of poems!
About the Guest Reviewer
Emma Eden Ramos is the author of two novels and one poetry chapbook. Ramos’ novels have been reviewed in The San Francisco Book Review, The Roanoke Times and other well-known papers. Ramos’ poetry chapbook was shortlisted for the Independent Literary Award in 2011. Ramos has written for Agnes Films Journal, Women Writers, Women[‘s] Books, Luna Luna Magazine and other publications. She has had her writing mentioned at RogerEbert.com, Examiner.com, and on WBAI 99.5 Pacifica Radio. Ramos occasionally writes book reviews. Her most recent, a review of a collection of poems, was republished in The British Mensa Society’s Arts and Literature journal. Ramos studied psychology at Marymount Manhattan College. She is currently teaching at a high school in New York City.
About the Poet
Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess, Post Pardon, and Black Pearl. She was selected by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the 2010 Hot Pink List and is a member of the PlayGround writers’ pool; her play Frigidare was staged for the 15th Annual Best of Play Ground Festival. Recipient of the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House summer residency at Washington College in Maryland, Arisa has also received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Juniper Summer Writing Institute, Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2005 and 2014, her poetry has been published widely and is featured on the recording WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet.
About You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened
Angular, smart, and fearless, Arisa White’s newest collection takes its titles from words used internationally as hate speech against gays and lesbians, reworking, re-envisioning, and re-embodying language as a conduit for art, love, and understanding. “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,” writes poet Tracie Morris. “White’s attentive word substitutions and range of organized forms, lithe anecdotes, and disturbed resonances put us in the middle of living a realized, intelligent life of the senses.” You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened works through intersectional encounters with gender, identity, and human barbarism, landing deftly and defiantly in beauty.
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