dic tion ary Review: C.Warman

There are a few reviews floating around the interwebs of dic tion ary. I thought it'd be nice to post them on The Couch. Let's start with a few from Goodreads. This one is from fiction writer and playwright Christopher Warman: 

Sharea Harris's latest poetry collection is an awe-inspiring tour-de-force. This book is a creative work that is firing on all cylinders; every part of this work--from the poems to the arrangement and curation to the design of the book itself--is contributing in perfect concert to a powerful and personal experience that will demand and command your attention from the inside cover to the end of its index alphabet.

It's difficult to know where to draw attention in this review, because so many parts of this book are so excellent. The individual poems themselves, to begin, are exemplary. Harris shows a complete mastery of poetic forms, structure, and devices. There is a ton of variety in the language and structure itself, but the thematic focus is so tight that the book never feels disparate despite its many and varied mechanics. 

But here I am getting stuck again, because it's unjust to speak to the quality of the poems without acknowledging how their arrangement and placement on the page feed into that quality. For example, the collection opens with four poems: "because you are going to see me run soon", "memory", "family", and "because I always feel like running". There are many choices Harris could have made with these poetic works. They are interconnected and could have been presented as one poem, perhaps split up by roman numerals or section headings. They could have been presented in-line, one after another, from one page to the next. They could have been spread throughout the book, like a memory that is revisited. But Harris chose to present them as four separate poems, each taking a two-page spread, one after the other, creating an instantly addictive momentum that throttled me forward, a momentum that continues through the first two-thirds of the book. And it should be noted, this is not a consistent design aesthetic applied throughout the book. Harris deviates when it contributes to the work. That intentionality, which is evident in every single aspect of the book, is really what is going to resonate most as you read this book.

And while Harris is wringing every individual page for its contribution to the book, the messaging across the entire book receives just as much intentionality. As I alluded before, the book is split in two parts, divided by a color collage insert. There is no "Section I/Section II" designation going on, but there is a shift at this point--in tone, in pacing, in design. Most noticeably, the connectedness of sets of poems is gone, along with the page-to-page momentum that came with it. This may sound like a criticism, but this shift effectively jars the reader into a new state of mind for the second part of the book. The poems seem to be divided between the personal and the political. The personal poems feed into each other, build off of each other; they're looser and feel more vulnerable. The political poems, in contrast, feel like standalone, prepared statements; they are more structured--airtight--like a policy stance. But Harris, as a black woman, does not have the luxury of fully separating these parts of herself. Her personal choices are narrowed by political circumstance; her political choices are impacted by personal experience. This messy quality reflects in her poems as the reader sees Harris want to JUST be a person or JUST be a poet--sometimes explicitly--but she cannot, and those elements spill over and into each other. It's an incredible and personal illustration of a generation, where so many people feel the call to action in their day to day lives, but are reluctant to answer.

There are so many things I can say about this excellent book, but here is the gist: Harris's collection is a visceral, masterfully crafted poetic experience. To not read this book is to commit a grave disservice to yourself.

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