Plans are that before April 4, I will have read and commented upon all ten of the chapbooks within the forthcoming (Akashic Books) box set: New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (NNE). I've spent a lot of time with multiple readings of many of them so far and am really enjoying them (to the point that I plan to go backwards and read the three earlier annual box sets). The set was selected and edited by Kwame Dawes and Chris Abani and there's an eleventh chapbook included which includes an essay from each about the series and their selection process. One of the specifics is that nobody that they include has published a collection prior to their inclusion. The third such chapbook I'll be reviewing here is Girl B by Victoria Adukwei Bulley. It is 30 pages long with 14 poems included and a preface written by Karen McCarthy Woolf. The cover is by the artist, Ficre Ghebreyesus who was born in Asmara, Eritrea--he passed away in April 2012. His work adorns all eleven chapbooks in this box and they are gorgeous.
The collection begins with the poem, "Girl," which begins:
Hair coming down past your breasts like confetti. Your straighter teeth, your
stripped upper lip (recoiling still), your clean, dark complexion. Lean thighs,
or the gap between them. The grasp of your jeans at you like a lover that you'd
like to leave, exposing the gap.
and so on. It's an idea/concern that comes up more than once in this collection, one of African descent and the ideas of what is considered beautiful by the majority. We see it again later in the first two sections of the poem "Girls in Arpeggio." The first section follows along the line of thinking from "Girl," that of looking to assimilate in regard to what is considered beautiful:
The smiles of the girls
on the children's relaxer kits
told no lies. They were too happy
to realize they were poster girls
for the effacement of themselves.
while the second section looks at the opposite, what happens to those that do not try to assimilate when it comes to what the majority sees as beautiful:
There is a toll charged
for choosing to be the exotic one.
The problem has something to do
with your acceptance of a cage
made from laundered gold.
Another poem, "Peach Crayon," also outwardly deals with race:
All your love aside,
I thought about leaving you
for some imaginary man:
tall, dark, hair like mine
but cut back, shaped up, black, too.
I was thinking about the kids--
about the kids of the kids.
It seemed the safest way
to ensure they won't come home
like I did, bearing artwork, portraits
of the artists: white and blond,
aquamarine gems for eyes
While this outwardly pointedly looks at an inter-racial couple, I wonder if it partially reads, as it considers the kids and the kids of the kids so heavily, from that kid point of view, one that has aspects of their life determined by the actions of their parents--the decisions of their parents. I consider this knowing that Adukwei Bulley is a British-born and raised Ghanaian poet and writer per her bio. With this in mind, she's one that has seen an aspect of her life determined by a decision of her parents.
I enjoyed seeing various styles (and here is my utter lack of knowledge of poetry hurts) shown in the writing of these poems--there are prose poems, poems in stanzas, poems in couplets, poems in sections, and more. In this way, and some of the variances this collection certainly feels like a debut, but the poems are powerful without beating the reader over the head in a way that suggests it's an excellent debut from a poet to anxiously await more work from in the future.