More definitively, though, we see “South,” and we think “slavery.” I know because I’m a poet, and the poet in this South must say what historians and politicians and journalists and scientists neglect to say. Let me go further.
She tries a few more no-but-where-are-you-REALLY-froms, then asks, “What’s your cultural heritage?” “Bangladeshi,” I say, relieved. She chortles, as though we have been playing a game of charades and she has just correctly interpreted my gestures. She exclaims: “I knew you were Middle Eastern!”
However, the sculpture of Roosevelt accompanied by the Indigenous American and enslaved African says something else to me: we helped make America—we are not its victims. We are its heroes. Even by the river in Nantes, I didn’t just feel sorrow. I felt glory.
Big-Eyed Afraid comprises five numbered sections, demarcations tracking the linear progression from youth to adulthood, and the milestones in between. Yet the poems defy this neat organization, each an intimate case study of identity; they are frank interrogations of family, race, gender, mental illness, and the forces that shape us.
Miller Williams, the Arkansas poet, is in fantastic but scant company. Arkansas is better known for its blues, country, and jazz artists. But almost anyone who reads Williams’s poems will realize that they can also be sung. Are song lyrics really poems set to music? Williams’s poems are poems, and the music comes through with reading, aloud or in one's head.
It’s resisting gravity that wears, the hill going down—weighted with rain, her upturned hands pools erosion, a ladle dipping away cream. The body is equal measures milk and stone, a small room divided by string. The sky’s acid what tongues her face to blur.
Poet Clifford Bernier’s first book won the Gival Press Poetry Award, landing $1,000 in his pocket. The idea for the musical parts of The Silent Art came to Bernier while he was sitting on stage after a weekly open mic he hosted that featured a lot of improvisational music: his book is the jazz-music experience in poetry.