I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood

Tiana Clark. Univ. of Pittsburgh, $17 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-0-8229-6558-9
Clark bridges a Tennessee landscape’s past and present in her stellar debut, evincing a potent mix of history, injury, and divided identity. The opening poem, “Nashville,” sets the tone, with a racist epithet hurled in a city gentrified by people who “don’t know about the history of Jefferson Street or Hell’s/ Half Acre.” Clark investigates mixed black heritage and marriage to a white partner whose family asks “Can’t we// just let the past be the past?” Her speakers boldly face moments of tension that often draw blood; in such terrain, even a youngster’s first kiss is fraught with hazard: “My braces cut you—/ metallic scythe.” These speakers are in dialogue with an array of personalities as psychological as they are historical, including Phillis Wheatley, Nina Simone, and Hannah Peace from Toni Morrison’s Sula. Yet these formally adventurous lyric poems are equally alert to nature’s violence, whether depicting the sprint of skittish livestock or the aftermath of volcanic eruption (“insidious gas or the searing belch of reckless lava”). In their forthright tone and layered sense of regional heritage, Clark’s lines locate and evoke a nexus of dark erotic knowledge “full of thunderstorm/ and terracotta, baked earth and spangled with Tennessee pollen.” (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 10/01/2018
Release date: 09/01/2018
Genre: Fiction
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