Featuring hand-picked selections by authors we admire for all the readers on your holiday gift list, our Gift Guide Week is as lit as it gets. Today, poetry powerhouse Canisia Lubrin gets lit-picky with three book picks for best friends, brothers, and nieces.
This week we revealed book recommendations for everyone on your list (and we mean everyone) from some of the coolest authors around.
I know that you’ve been grieving. I know that you have much grieving left to do. This is why I table this offering of a poetry that I believe can take us through the impossible. Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell: Poems for a Girlhood is a carefully measured rapturous work on what it means to try to exist within a mourning, through our own limitations in attending to the unattainable as it moves out beyond our measures and boundaries and language. I have to tell you that this is not self-help as we pejoratively understand self-help. I have also to tell you that this is a book of poetry that brilliantly refracts loss out of a particular menace. But that it doesn’t let any of us look away from the thing that would let us off the hook; that it makes us think twice before we absolve ourselves at the reality of racialized violence; that it gently pushes against our perceptions to deepen the well of empathy in us—these are altogether it’s miraculous gift. Still, why do I recommend you read this book as you grieve your own great loss? I am here with you, and, I think, like Peerbaye remembering Reena Virk, I cannot enter the place that you have entered but by poetry and togetherness and care. This is a disquieting and beautiful and rewarding book of poetry that I can already see you holding on to for many re-readings.
I know you don’t read much poetry, but you taught me to find poetry in the most mundane. Here is a thing I’d love to share with you.Sylvia D. Hamilton’s And I Alone Escaped to Tell You is the work of an artist who wields her filmmaker’s eye in poetic service to her lineage to some of Canada’s earliest African descended peoples (called the Black Refugees). Hamilton charts stories of those ancestors like cartography, like archeology, like architecture. She offers the reader their great resilience and, you’d like this very much, their defiance and grace by celebrating their own unique modes of agency—and she does this with jazz-like musicality throughout. She doesn’t stop there, though. What you’d really love of this collection is how Hamilton wraps these distant voices into the day-to-day life in astonishing detail. This is, for me, what kept taking me out of this sporadic sense of voyeurism I encountered in reading this collection. These are stories perhaps relegated to sparse Black History Month specials here and there that you and I have fretted over so many times—so it is particularly thrilling to have them in poetry. The place, the memory, the lives and journeys of early Black Nova Scotians are an inextricable part of Canada’s story of becoming that more and more people should know about it. Hamilton’s is a collection that amplifies and clarifies and celebrates difficult-to-explain achievements of that generation and what and who came after. It’s like Hamilton is in conversation with those Black Refugees that hold her name and gaze yet still in a way all her own. Read this book and let’s talk about it over food and drink.
This is a way from your Twilight stuff, but you will love Susan Perly’s Death Valley.In Death Valley is a protagonist, war photographer Vivienne Pink, who offers us the world in all of its messiness and utter beauty. As a budding photographer yourself, I can see you taking stock of yourself at home in Vivienne’s visceral lens. You’ll have great fun moving us up close to the microscopic details of our residence on this planet, and then letting yourself be tenderly pulled away so the big things can move you, too: war, genocide, religion, politics. If that all sounds like a lot, you can rest assured that Perly is a deft writer who has given us a cast of characters beautifully written. I think particularly you will be challenged by these characters, the ways they let us question the nuanced and fraught relationship between our bodies and the earth. You’ll appreciate how Perly troubles our sense of home. Death Valley reminds us that we have much to learn yet. It is a brilliant and judicious and funny and moving book, which I know you’ll love.* * *Canisia Lubrin is a writer, critic, teacher, and editor. She is the author of Voodoo Hypothesis and the chapbook augur. Follow her on Twitter at @canisialu. * * *Thanks a bunch to Canisia for these viscerally charged book picks! If you missed our other recommendations, click here. Happy gifting!