Because When God Is Too Busy: Haïti, Me & the World
Gina Athena Ulysse. Wesleyan Univ., $14.95 trade paper (118p) ISBN 978-0-8195-7735-1
Following in the tradition of anthropologist-writers such as Zora Neal Hurston and Ana-Maurine Lara, Haitian-American scholar-artist Ulysse (Why Haiti Needs New Narratives) forges a powerful poetic manifesto on blackness, methodology, and survival. Recounting her experience as a young woman whose body was “under siege,” Ulysse reckons with gender and race through a return to and reinvention of the ritual: “I was much older, healthier, an anthropologist.” This mix of anthropology, identity, and Vodou (as the religion is called by its practitioners) permeates this dynamic collection regarding the Haitian diasporic experience. The repetition and lack of capitalization, for example, illuminate these poems’ resistant manner and the ways they unfurl and refuse silence. Through the hierarchies of sugar production and commodification, Ulysse points out that “colored/ raw sugar has no place on tables in hotels/it is colored/because it is not refined.” To resist constrictive “refinements,” Ulysse summons the ancestors’ songs in order to express her own: “I cried and screamed and hollered/about my blackness.” Moreover, Ulysse critiques anthropological writing: “I inserted myself deep into the diss/ I inserted myself into this form that stifles me.” Ulysse’s hybrid work embodies the answer to her question: “Why do they think so many black women in anthropology keep turning to the arts?” Photos. (Mar.)
Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the timing of one of the events mentioned. This version also uses a corrected spelling of Vodou.
Reviewed on: 09/04/2017