Radical and rooted in Black cultural history, experimental yet never losing a responsibility to language, Anastacia-Reneé’s (v.) deserves every stage poetry can give it.
Accurately described in Rezina Habtemariam's afterword as “a raw meditation on the politics brutally imposed on the bodies of Black girls and women,” the book both challenges poetic traditions in African-American literature and affirms the best humanistic and spiritual traditions that come from it. The dexterity of her pen—the way she fuses styles and brings experimental poetics together with fundamentals from the oral tradition—gives her poetic experiments a complex beauty and power. In short: she says things that direly need to be said, and she says them in the way that only great art can.
A hefty book in terms of forms and sheer mass, (v.) is packaged as a summation of a writer’s career and her introduction to a bigger audience. But as a Black woman living in America, she is denied the privilege of the hero journey formulas black men have used when using this kind of book. By flipping the patriarchal clichés they have used in this genre on their backside, however, she expands the language of those journeys and helps perfect the form.
There are no flat-dada nihilist victories here, no globetrotting-cad behaviors passed off personal growth. Instead, the collection's power lies both in the speaker's joy and in her thorough accounting of the price she and so many other black women pay for being human in America. Her style thus extends that rarest of poetic forms: radical honesty.
There is no “Anastacia-Reneé” poem in (v.). She employs prose, experimental lists, call-and-response pieces that use biblical language, and metaphorical African roots work initiated by the Black Arts Movement, just to name a few of the traditions she's drawing on. Her startlingly original formats serve each piece well, and they all serve commendably in the good war against cliché. Take the beginning of “Curious,” a poem about the exhilaration and peril of developing an inquisitive mind.
do you feel a wormless bird is a better bird than a bird with a (worm) in it’s mouth
you think that maybe having more heart is not a good thing you decide
No no no it isn’t
there is a page with an elephant, pig & human fetus you wonder which of those
is the most innocent and which has shed the most blood the human one is sealed
Here, Anastacia-Reneé organically switches from free verse to open field composition without losing a sense of the design with which she begins the poem.
You can also see her radicalism in "Dragon," interweaving African call-and-response, kinetic beats, and accent-driven experiments to breathe new life into the prose poem and the nature poem all at once:
one of them. anisozgotptera never use your six legs. never run
when you should never hop anisozgotptera never jump ship.
let yourself be all forward, backward & side to side time you
use more dragon and less fly.
But the poems in (v.) that move me most are the ones where she uses “&” in such far out ways that you almost forget how church they are. Check out "As Told By a Child," for instance. Nothing in the book, and few poems overall, hit my heart harder than the ending to that poem, wherein Anastacia-Reneé pulls off the high-wire act of describing the Dylan Roof shootings through a child’s eyes. The effect is devastating:
you decide you will trust—you will lay your little hands
on your community
& make change
& that is the only thing
that make sense when 9 people woke up
& 9 people are now being prayed (for)
God bless the child that has his own
& you want your own answers
you want to ask dylan roof
if he ever sang in a church choir
if he sang so loud god could see his heart
Reading (v.), my mind went back to the aesthetics of the Black Arts Movement and to the course corrective focus readers and artists have demonstrated in recent memory. With a documentary on Sonia Sanchez and several books commemorating Gwendolyn Brooks’s centennial birthday, there has been a turn away from the machismo-pop poetics that have characterized BAM’s brand to artists who have done deep roots work in experimenting with the language in order to make it healthier for black people and everyone else. Who knows if Anastacia-Reneé’s book will resonate with a large enough audience to effect that level of change, but dear god it deserves its chance.
Go help her give it that chance at her book launch on July 8th at Generations.