Rose Gelfand '21
IF YOU LIKE: 2pac, Biggie Smalls, Chance the Rapper, Noname, Childish Gambino, or any rap/hip-hop/poetry really
YOU SHOULD READ: Dated Emcees by Chinaka Hodge
This is the first book I’m recommending in this column because Chinaka Hodge is, in my opinion, one of the best and most underrated poets of this generation. Dated Emcees is a fierce and brilliant collection of poetry in which Hodge “examines her love life through the lens of hip-hop’s best-known orators, characters, archetypes and songs” (taken from the back of the book). As Daveed Diggs says, “she writes with the grace of a dancer, the bars of a rapper, the heart of your best friend, and all of the swag and soul of Oakland.” Women are so often left out of the hip-hop narrative, and Hodge’s poems not only express hip-hop history, but they also give voice to this rarely heard side of the experience. For instance, in sex on a tour bus, she writes about being lovers with a famous artist, jokingly calling herself a groupie. In the poem, she realizes “it is always going to be us. me titties uneven and fatter than the girls in the front row and you ravenous for me anyway. (56)” As a culture, we devour the stories of famous men and the experiences that inspired their art but rarely do we get to hear the point of view of the person the art is about. Rarely are the muses and girlfriends and side chicks given the opportunity to speak, but Hodge picks up the pen and gives these experiences voice, turning the gaze back on the male artist. Chinaka also plays with form in a seemingly effortless fashion with poems like small poems for Big an elegy/poem for Biggie Smalls comprised of 24 haikus, one for each year he lived, and 2pac couplets with one line for each year he lived. In Dated Emcees, hip-hop is intimately personal. It is a mother, an uncle, a brother, a friend, a lover and a self all in one. Hodge explores herself and the world with striking honesty, navigating love, loss, humor, black womanhood and more.
(Also even if you aren’t a fan of hip-hop, I promise you will love this book. IT IS SO DAMN GOOD)
IF YOU LIKE: Hunger by Roxanne Gay
YOU SHOULD READ: Tender Points by Amy Berkowitz (content warning: chronic pain and sexual violence)
In Tender Points, Amy Berkowitz brilliantly weaves a story of trauma’s physical effect on the body and what happens when patriarchy intersects with health. She simultaneously explores her experiences with developing and naming fibromyalgia, grapples with the memory gaps of her history with sexual violence, and confronts the myth of female hysteria and invalidation of female pain. While Berkowitz’s writing centers on her own experiences, she speaks with a collective voice. She writes in sporadic bursts, layering the narrative with anecdotes, quotes, metaphors, and experiences and then weaving them back in later sections. This book explores how nonlinear healing from trauma is, and so in this way, the form matches the content perfectly. By the end of the book, sexual violence, gender, and physical pain are all melded into each-other, inseparable in their messiness, shame, and ubiquity. However, Berkowitz unearths some of that shame, giving voice and legitimacy to the intimate struggles of so many whose suffering goes unspoken and unnamed. I highly recommend this book to people living with chronic pain and/or working through their own healing processes of any kind and/or want to learn more about how health and gender intersect and/or just want to read some really good prose.
IF YOU HATE: What capitalism makes people do for money, the commodification of art
YOU SHOULD WATCH: "Written to be Yelled at Trump Tower During a Vigil for The NEA" by Sam Sax
For every installment I’ll include a poem or collection that is accessible for free on the internet, cause let's be real, books are expensive! I don’t want to explain/spoil this too much since it is just a single poem that you can watch immediately, but I will say Sam Sax is one of my favorite poets of all time. He somehow manages to write poems that hold up both on the page and on stage without needing any sort of translation (those who write for both know how incredibly difficult this is!). I heard this poem for the first time and immediately wanted to listen to it on repeat for days. Sax articulates all the mixed feelings that come with being an artist in a money-driven world. He writes:
I’ve got a government approved sadness / I’ve got a government approved debt / I got a government who wants my loved ones filled with bullets / filling prisons / it’s sick / how money is always disturbing the dead / always making us declare our lives against the price of oil / but still, you gotta pay to live /
Check out the full poem! https://tinyurl.com/ybg7c9rt
Tune in next issue, for more Rose’s reading recs!