Head Off & Split

Nikky Finney. Northwestern Univ., $15.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-0-8101-5216-8
This fourth collection from Finney (On Wings Made of Gauze) should prove hard to forget. Against other black poets' interest in congregations, Finney is drawn to defiant individualists, to black women who let no one tell them what to do. Several long sequences animate, or answer, public figures, from Rosa Parks to Strom Thurmond to President George W. Bush and Bush adviser Condoleezza Rice, who imagines herself (in Finney's telling) "fifteen again, all smiles, and relocated/ to the peaks of the Rocky Mountains,// where she and the Steinway/ are the only Black people in the room." Finney's politics are unmistakable, and her sympathy for the dispossessed—shown with anger and verve in poems about Hurricane Katrina—pervades the volume's thickly painted scenes. Yet Finney's most original contributions could be the stranger, less topical pages, especially late in the book. She offers explicit depictions of bodies at play ("The arc of your boneless back flags above me... The long twin inches of my hands take the/ whole night"), and she takes from the title, a term used by Southern fish sellers, a defiant way to see her world: depicting herself as a fish "Hungering/ to be called Delicious." (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/21/2011
Release date: 01/01/2011
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