cover image No Dictionary of a Living Tongue

No Dictionary of a Living Tongue

Duriel E. Harris. Nightboat, $16.95 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-937658-64-9

In her third collection, poet and performer Harris (Amnesiac) captures the unceasing existential heaviness of being black in America. The consumption and appropriation of blackness is a major theme: “Aberration projected through the skein of falsehood. Bodies transported across bodies to toil & breed toil, defiled to be defiled. Economy of scale.” Additionally, she tackles morbid perspectives on blackness as well as the stereotypes that surround it, particularly poverty and the disproportionate incarceration rates of black men. “I am a pretty little WIC check/ As little as little can be/ And colored girls from every hood/ Are crazy over me,” Harris writes in a kind of nursery rhyme, one of the many ways that she juxtaposes form and content throughout the collection. She also employs a wide range of typographical styles and elements, including in one poem that resembles the jumble of an Italian futurist work, and another designed to resemble the presentation of old fairy tales. Harris renders several poems on the faces of shaded cubes. A poem composed in Arabic undermines the Eurocentric focus of American poetry. Insightful, contemplative, and often emotionally wrenching, Harris’s poems reject the idea of blackness as a monolith and reflect its multifariousness. (Apr.)