The challenge and joy of poetry by Robin Coste Lewis and Adrian Matejka

From: Los Angeles Times

la-1490903174-i2nix7veza-snap-imagePerhaps the great (however obvious) lesson of the last several years — the waves of police violence against black men, the bitter and hate-fueled rise of Trump and worldwide xenophobia — is that we have not transcended and learned from history nearly as well as we might have thought. Maybe we need reminding. In two recent books, “Map to the Stars” by Adrian Matejka and “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” the 2015 debut by Robin Coste Lewis, black poets jog our collective memories, facing the distant and recent history of black Americans, asking us to try to see ourselves in their mirrors.

Lewis, who won the 2015 National Book Award in poetry for this book, is a challenging poet, both because her poems stare unflinchingly at evidence of some of America’s most shameful sins and because her fierce intelligence casts its gaze in long, sometimes exhausting poems. She is many poets in one: formalist, surrealist, experimentalist, collage artist, confessor. She is a poet and a scholar (her degrees include a master’s in theological studies in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature from Harvard Divinity School), but her poems show she has also deeply studied visual art, cataloging the history of representations of the subjugation of black women’s bodies at the hands of whites. She doesn’t merely cast blame at white Americans, though; this book is also a personal history: “the black side / of my family owned slaves,” she writes on the book’s first page. Lewis’ struggle to discern her own culpability makes this book as mesmerizing as it is disturbing.

What can History possibly say?

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