cover image Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems

Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems

Robin Coste Lewis. Knopf, $26 (160p) ISBN 978-1-101-87543-8

Lewis’s astonishing debut full-length collection works as a triptych, with the title poem’s central panel flanked by autobiographical lyric poems that investigate intersections of blackness and gender, geography, alienation, and the formation of the self. The speakers of these poems adopt a variety of tones, ranging from sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek to gut-wrenchingly sincere. While the book’s first and third sections shine with uncompromising and brilliantly constructed poems, it is the eponymous second section that is truly extraordinary: a narrative sequence composed entirely of titles, catalogues, and exhibition descriptions of Western art objects in which a black female figure is present. Through her recombination of found texts, Lewis denotes an assimilation of black femininity in the preexisting rhetoric of white-patriarchal depictions of the black female form in art and the museum setting. The procedure she employs is intentionally violent, parsing source material as it pertains to images of the black female form in a way that mimics the valuation of the black female body. As Lewis reworks fragments contextually rooted in ahistorical depictions of blackness, her meditations on the real origins of blackness are made visible. The result is a book that is formally polished, emotionally raw, and wholly exquisite. (Oct.)