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I’m delighted to welcome Arisa White back to Diary of an Eccentric today to share a little about her upcoming release, Who’s Your Daddy, a poetic memoir due out in March 2021, and a video poetry reading. Please give her a warm welcome!

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Who’s Your Daddy started as a series of epistolary poems when my mother first asked me if I wanted to write my father in Guyana. He was deported back there for involvement in a criminal case. Because I did not know what I would say in the letter—in part because I didn’t know what my feelings were—I needed the space to reflect, feel, and prepare for language.

At its root, the work is personal, it requires a telling, and it’s seeking to know something and someone. I was wondering how the poem could hold this journey that would be expository, observational, interrogative, and self-reflective. I was pushing the poem to its extreme, asking it to come explore with me as I figured out my relationship with my father, his absence, and the woman I’ve become in this estranged dynamic.

I wrote the epistolary poems for nearly two years, all of which were addressed to Gerald, my father. Fortunately, I received a grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation, which allowed me to create a self-publication of the poems, host a series of letter writing workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area, and take a trip to Guyana where I met my father after 30-plus years of his absence from my life.

The self-publication is called Dear Gerald, and I gave out these chapbooks in exchange for letters addressed to absent, distant, dead fathers and patriarchal figures. This resulted in me collecting eighteen letters, one came as far as the Philippines and two from inmates sentenced to San Quentin. My mom even sent in a letter.

When I went to Guyana in 2015, I kept a journal and read the newspaper every day I was there, so when I returned back to the States, I now had notes and reflections from actually meeting Gerald, being in his home country, in the neighborhood in which he grew up. All these pieces felt necessary to the book.

The project was expanding and broadening. Throughout it all, I was reading articles on father absence, the historical role of the father, pieces on Black fatherhood and The New Jim Crow, books on endarkened feminisms, Afrofuturism, neoliberalism, Black death, as well as poetry collections that employed documentary poetics. Reading works like Zong!, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, and You Da One, I was intrigued with how to include all the ways I was responding to (and how life around me was helping to answer) the questions of what do I feel when it comes to my father? Who am I as a result of his absence? What is love in abandonment? What role does disappearance serve in my intimate relations?

After the trip to Guyana, I felt physically done with the project. I was exhausted from it. And it wasn’t until 2017, when writing with my friend Emerson Whitney (who has an amazing lyrical memoir out called HEAVEN) that it started to make sense how I could integrate these different pieces together. Emerson’s style is wonderfully lyrical and fluid. He pulls in and weaves citations along with personal memories and his sentences have strong poetic sensibilities. What you get is an autotheory that feels more authentic to how a life lives, learns, senses, and makes meaning.

In the writing game of tag with Emerson, where I would send a prompt (photograph, quote, etc.) to him, and then he tagged me with a prompt, I started to push the length of the line and challenged the function of the sentence. I became less afraid of the sentence as a thing of prose writers, and started to feel it as a way to communicate with my father–off in another country, miles and miles away, with decades between us. The sentence was a way to connect, it was a conjunctive experience.

Who’s Your Daddy finally took a coherent shape while curating a reading series, and being in residence, at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco for eight weeks. I wrote a twelve-page piece that included citations from writers like Henry A. Giroux and Christina Sharpe, the artist Meleko Mokgosi, the letters received from folks, prose poems, all of which comprise the final section of the book. Writing that twelve-page piece taught me how to develop the rest of the collection, and with the help of my editor Kate Angus, I was able to recognize which narratives I needed to include from childhood and young adulthood. Now, as I look over the book, the opening sections of Who’s Your Daddy are more poetry, the shorter lines, and then as the collection progresses, the genres blend, the sentence takes over as I make my way to the father.

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About Who’s Your Daddy

A lyrical, genre-bending coming-of-age tale featuring a queer, Black, Guyanese American woman who, while seeking to define her own place in the world, negotiates an estranged relationship with her father.

Advance Praise:

“Arisa White channels the ear of Zora Neal Hurston, the tongue of Toni Cade Bambara, and the eye of Alice Walker in the wondrous Who’s Your Daddy. She channels Guyanese proverbs, Shango dreams, games of hide and seek, and memories of an absentee father to shape the spiritual condition. What she makes is “a maze that bobs and weaves a new style whenever there’s a demand to love.” What she gives us are archives, allegories, and wholly new songs.” —Terrance Hayes

“In these crisply narrative poems, which unreel like heart-wrenching
fragments of film, Arisa White not only names that gaping chasm between
father and daughter, but graces it with its true and terrible face. Every
little colored girl who has craved the constant of her father’s gaze will
recognize this quest, which the poet undertakes with lyric that is tender
and unerring.” —Patricia Smith

“Somewhere nearing its end, Arisa White says of Who’s Your Daddy, it’s
“a portrait of absence and presence, a story, a tale, told in patchwork
fashion . . .” This exactly says what Who’s Your Daddy is, though it
doesn’t say all it takes to do justice to the mythic paradox an absent
parent guarantees a child, young or grown, or what it takes to live with
and undergo such birthright. There’s not only a father’s absence and
presence, there’s a mother who says “you raise your daughters, and love
your sons,” there are stepfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, a grandmother,
brothers, lovers, all of whom leave their marks and give and take love.
Surrounding the whole book hovers the questions do I forgive him, and is
forgiveness possible? This beautifully, honestly conceived genius of a book
shook me to the core.” —Dara Wier

Goodreads | Pre-order

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About the Author

Arisa White
Photo credit: Nye’ Lyn Tho

Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow and an assistant professor of creative writing at Colby College. She is the author of four books, including the poetry collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, and coauthor of Biddy Mason Speaks Up, winner of the Maine Literary Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal for Middle-Grade Nonfiction. She serves on the board of directors for Foglifter and Nomadic Press. Find her at arisawhite.com.

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ytmbtth_cover_finalToday 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!

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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 ReviewThe 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 JournalWomen Writers, Women[‘s] BooksLuna Luna Magazine and other publicationsShe has had her writing mentioned at RogerEbert.comExaminer.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.

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About the Poet

arisa-white-img_4034-small

Photo Credit: Nye’ Lyn Tho

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.

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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.

Check out You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened on Goodreads | Amazon

Click the button below to follow You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened on Poetic Book Tours

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© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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ytmbtth_cover_finalI’m happy to welcome Arisa White to Diary of an Eccentric today to talk about her new poetry collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. Please give her a warm welcome!

I believe the poet helps you locate a feeling in yourself. Helps you define what that feeling is and what it calls up. The poem is a way to get to that feeling in yourself, like how a map guides a tourist. When you find a place similar in you, you can make something from it. What will you build? Then look outside of yourself and locate that feeling in the personal and social spheres you occupy, as well as where it shows up in the body politic. Begin to make connections, make images, combine words, maneuver syntax—use language so it builds that feeling in the phrase, the sentence, the image, the rhythm and meter of it all. The prosody sets off its sounds in the body. Those waves, vibrations move through the body. We speak the poem and it re-sounds. The feeling is passed along.

For You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, I came across an international list of words and terms used for gay and lesbian. I used these words and phrases to locate the struggle, hurt, and beauty within myself and around me. Here are these words, the majority of them being derogatory, some neutral, and this is the purpose it serves in the body politic. How then do these words exist in the individual body? What are the feelings inside me and how have they taken shape through my experiences? How are these feelings operating in the world?

I soon began to recognize that, regardless of sex and sexuality, I was constantly locating a wounded feminine. Religion, Patriarchy, Misogyny, Whiteness; Capitalism; Deforestation; Supremacy; Domination; War; Death. All these systems of thought and organization that teach us to hate ourselves and then promote ourselves by hating others. This is wounding action—there is loss on both ends. This is not sustainable. And to let this go, to begin some kind of healing, to make beauty, this is the feeling of grief. Of so much grief.

However, the act of creating the poem is life. All this pulsing life. Life and loss, as a shared encounter. There is the unspeakable that is present with the speakable, and only you can uniquely reconcile the hush. Your body is the only body that reads as it does. For this collection, I considered the somatic as I built each poem. I generated imagery and emotionally intelligent language by accessing the wounded feminine, personal experiences, and popular culture. The poems live an orchestral arrangement that amplifies a feeling.

“This Ache and Its Silent Amplification” was originally the manuscript’s title when it won the Augury Books Prize. It came from a line from the poem “Mary Indigo.” I wanted the title to communicate that sense of reverberation that comes from a silent or silenced or erased or misrecognized or marginalized or buried place from within. However, when I said the title to others, they couldn’t hear it correctly. It caused so much confusion.

After being inspired by an episode of How to Get Away With Murder, and getting the opinions of fellow writers, we came to You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. There is gratitude at the core of these poems. A deep appreciation for life and its nuances and complexities and flawesomeness. People now smile when I say the title to them, because it’s heard as an affirmation. This collection is the first time that I’ve put black female queer desire at the center. I’m not being square in my location of desire in myself. Round and spiral, curves, bark ridges, flamboyancy on sapphire bays. I felt love and loved.

I played as another way to experience these words and phrases. Thinking how play builds empathy, helps us cope with social realities, makes sense of what is happening, and so you drag yourself into the performance of the things you fear, or turn away from. In that vulnerability something can be imagined. The way a slab of clay can inspire vulnerability in a potter, because there is an invitation to connect, to change—transformation is being offered.

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About the poet

arisa-white-img_4034-small

Photo Credit: Nye’ Lyn Tho

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.

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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.

Check out You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened on Goodreads | Amazon

Click the button below to follow You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened on Poetic Book Tours

PoeticButton

© 2016 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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