cover image Skin, Inc.: Identity Repair Poems

Skin, Inc.: Identity Repair Poems

Thomas Sayers Ellis, Graywolf, $23 (176p) ISBN 978-1-55597-567-8

Ellis's highly anticipated second collection has a bit of everything: poems in an array of forms—a concrete poem meditating on the English vowels and money, an abecedarian list of "Black Writing" terminology, a photo essay shot at the James Brown memorial at Harlem's Apollo Theatre; prose poems; meditations on New Yorker covers; and lots more. Throughout, Ellis (The Maverick Room) makes a complicated, often contradictory critique of race relations in America; he has as many self-corrections to put into practice, "sucker-punching I," as he does punches aimed at others: "One of these badass/ glorious days,/ the signs and negative sounds/ that worked against us/ will all begin their tenures/ of service.../ It has already begun with/ ‘Nigger' and ‘Bitch.' " While much of his work would be right at home on a spoken-word stage—Ellis is an extraordinary reader of his poems—he feels deeply uneasy about the pigeonholing of black poetry, "as if the craft of our/ inherited calling had only/ two camps of Blackness,/ ‘Academic' and ‘Spoken Word.' " This big book concludes with an amazing 35-page biography/elegy for Michael Jackson and the era through which he lived, and which he deeply affected. No doubt, this is a major book. (Sept.)