I Be, but I Ain't

Aziza Barnes. YesYes (SPD, dist.), $18 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-936919-39-0
Barnes commandeers the page in her startling debut, putting into language a range of lived experiences that expose crucial gaps in language and history. These poems brim with black voices, so with some winking irony she marks the collection's five sections with quotes from Confederate general Stonewall Jackson, including his final words: "Let us cross over the river & rest under the shade of the trees." Demonstrating a firm grasp of the interplay of form and content, Barnes varies tone and structure to meet her needs. Her opening poem emulates the shape of a framed picture of Miriam Makeba used to kill a centipede in her apartment, ending with "a colonizer's thought": "if I don't kill it now, how will I find it again?" The collection rolls from there. With justified annoyance and amusement, Barnes expounds on sexual and racial identities, fraught social interactions, and various modes of desire. As the poems shift location (New York City, Los Angeles, Mississippi, Ghana), those issues reveal their interrelatedness even as they manifest individually. Barnes writes, "I never understood or trusted land. I was born during an earthquake & have a single interest in pressure." She knows too well the pressure of existence, when limitations on identity insist that a person cannot exist. (June)
Reviewed on: 09/05/2016
Release date: 06/01/2016
Genre: Fiction
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