Details

ISBN-10: 0872867269
ISBN-13: 9780872867260
Publisher: City Lights Books
Publish Date: 11/01/2016
Dimensions: 6.80" L, 4.90" W, 0.40" H

Published by City Lights

And Then We Became

Paperback

Price: $12.95 $9.07

Overview

Top Poetry Books of Fall 2016 – Library Journal

Who are we humans, with our differences and our personal histories, mythologies and urgencies, as well as our collective struggles and dreams? Why are we here?

Questions of culture, ethnicity and gender–and the denial of those borders–infuse these poems, rich with social and political commentary, and filled with compassion, love, anger and hope. Even while writing of one child, one homeless person, one soldier, one war survivor, devorah major connects these individual stories to a contemplation of humanity’s place in the cosmos

Four sections of this long-awaited volume: ‘spirit’, ‘other selves’, ‘fragile’, ‘whole’ reveal a writer and life experiencer at the height of her poetic powers. Whenever I become too self-satisfied in intellectual games, I find my heart upended by these impassioned verses of humanity and what it means to be fully alive and present. From ‘nommo-how we come to speak’ to ‘war memories’, this former San Francisco Poet Laureate and worldly cosmonaut handles politics, war, and love in equal measure as the best poets of the people do. Pablo Neruda. Bob Kaufman, June Jordan. Wanda Coleman. Ears to the ground and eyes to the sky.”–Giovanni Singleton

In and then we became, devorah major steps out of the way and allows creation to craft creation. The structures and paints of her descriptions have incredible range of effect: the ascension into the first history a free people teach, the short story perceived through possession, the melodic start-stop motion of a debilitated life, the flash of your torturer’s dream; all part of a collaged panoramic of spirit and flesh. She is at home in all dimensions of her subject. The voices of this work walk straight toward you holding out moments of violence, lament, beauty, and invincibility for you to embrace, offering a face to become your own.–Tongo Eisen-Martin, author of Someone’s Dead Already

devorah major remains one of our premier storytellers. She wraps myths and headlines, family lore and visions in language that is both delicate and tough, enticing us to dive in even though the poem she serves up may have dangerously sharp edges. Her poems eagerly call forth the African deities who give her voice as she wrestles with the mysteries of this plane from why a woman may want to be a soldier to how we learn to love. These poems are like prayers to which you return each night.–Jewelle Gomez, author of The Gilda Stories and Name Poems

I hate to turn on the radio each morning where I hear that men haven’t changed, staying in office for generations and generally acting the fool. devorah major uses the many voices of women to explore a world that we know less about than the oceans of Enceladus. The great thing about devorah’s book is that we can’t interrupt as she rolls out the indictment poem by poem.”–Ishmael Reed

major’s book could not have come at a more appropriate time as now when the clamor of despair is being spoken into the universe. But as many of us know, these are also times for listening to our hearts and minds and doing what’s right for the greater majority, the global world of which we are a part. Reading and really reflecting on the messages in these poems will help us to become our better selves.–Opal Palmer Adisa

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Reviews

major's poetry moves from San Francisco's Mission Street and the Tenderloin (she's a former San Francisco poet laureate) to Africa, and from there to the far reaches of the universe. It conjures ancestors, honors memories of mothers, daughters and sisters, and traces births, beginnings and the origins of all things, including language and poetry itself, which major frames as a shield, a sword and as a healing salve. ... If readers aren't sure if they're meant to belong to major's tribe, they likely will feel that this spellbinding, all-inclusive, all-embracing book initiates them. 'year of the dragon, ' the third poem in the volume, might be the chant and hymn for 2016, as when major writes, 'it's an abstract constellation we live in / knowing the clock will turn / at any moment.' Many of the individual poems in and then we became stand a good chance of becoming 'news that stays news, ' to borrow the catchy phrase that the modernist poet Ezra Pound used to describe poetry itself."–San Francisco Chronicle

Four sections of this long-awaited volume: 'spirit', 'other selves', 'fragile', 'whole' reveal a writer and life experiencer at the height of her poetic powers. Whenever I become too self-satisfied in intellectual games, I find my heart upended by these impassioned verses of humanity and what it means to be fully alive and present. From 'nommo-how we come to speak' to 'war memories', this former San Francisco Poet Laureate and worldly cosmonaut handles politics, war, and love in equal measure as the best poets of the people do. Pablo Neruda. Bob Kaufman, June Jordan. Wanda Coleman. Ears to the ground and eyes to the sky."–Giovanni Singleton

A narrative poet of witness and resistance, devorah major writes of a dystopian, but not fictive past, naming ancestral worlds as the parallel universe in which she lives. Her poems take place in Yoruba and Haiti, but also in Newtown, in emergency rooms, in a homeless man's despair, in a lover's bed. The poet/speaker may counter grief with spirituality, the cosmos, and hope, may observe 'how suffer and celebration/could sleep so close together, ' yet she unsentimentally challenges the willful refusal to see, to listen, to act. In lines no longer than a heartbeat, a breath, she takes on Gwendolyn Brooks' promise to be a poet of community, accessibility, and love. There are echoes of Harriet Tubman, and guerrilla survival, Richard Wright and his 'hidden/underground, ' Adrienne Rich and the mistranslations and mangling of language, Toni Morrison's night-riding horsemen, the 'new species of black birds/who would not be silenced/and could not be killed.' They, too, are ancestors, guiding the speaker to that most personal of transformations: the journey of 'becoming, ' literally embodied as the last word of the final poem in this collection.–Lynda Koolish, author and photographer of African American Writers: Portraits and Visions

"A granddaughter of immigrants, San Francisco's third poet laureate, and winner of honors from PEN Oakland and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, major wields language vibrantly yet shows how it can be used against the marginalized: 'we honor speech// that can make us hate/ that can cause us to deny/ our mothers/ our brothers/ our self.' Yet she stands defiant. 'I did/ ask to be born, ' she proclaims, elsewhere asserting 'we come to this city/ and we name it ours.' Not surprisingly, an especially strong section asserting a feminist perspective through stories (in particular, see 'amina's trial') is titled 'and then we became other selves.' A fine spiritual and political reckoning for most readers.–Library Journal

major ... favors rich language and punchy lines as she ponders her place in the universe, and her relation to others similarly making their way. She captures emotions with economical precision, a trait that is evident in such poems as 'human, ' a four-stanza ode to the grandiosity of the cosmos in which she notes, 'i am less than a microscopic speck/ on the edge of the universe's lens.' In the collection's second section, 'other selves, ' major shows how people's interactions with the outside world reflect their inner character. Her poem 'brown lady in white' explores racial passing, through a character in what one could call white-face: 'she cannot become the/ whiteness she wraps around herself.' In the subsequent poem, 'any name will do, ' major speaks to the ways in which race complicates bonds of intimacy, her speaker expounding on how racism serves to sabotage sincere efforts to connect person to person. In the fourth and final section, the poems return to the mysteries of the universe, its vastness considered as infinite potential, rather than an uncrackable code. major ponders deep philosophical questions, but it's in her more personal portraits that her poems really sing.–Publishers Weekly

Dipping into and then we became offers a quietly righteous respite from the muck of election-related opinion, emotional triggers, and binary arguments on a constant social media loop – Even the title of the book is a relief. and then we became is a reminder, a mantra to repeat daily; we are all in the process of becoming. Look around. How many people do you know that have arrived? What does it mean to arrive, to have somehow become what you were always meant to be, when even the universe, as major points out in the book's final poem 'Cosmology Meditation #2, ' is 'omnicentric infinitely / expanding in all directions'? – Other poems in the collection travel between celebration and mourning, on a range of subjects: family, culture, social justice, ambiguity. The effect is equal measures celebratory and sorrowful. You aren't going to find answers in these poems. Only reminders that we are all searching, living, breathing, struggling, dying. Some are born into legacies of racial and gender oppression. Others survive physical ailments: strokes, cancer, mass shootings. You know, the stuff of modern life in America."–KQED

In poems notable for their directness and brevity, [and then we became] addresses an astonishing breadth of subjects: ethnicity, gender, homelessness, illness, aging, love, the cosmos and more."–East Bay Times


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Details

ISBN-10: 0872867269
ISBN-13: 9780872867260
Publisher: City Lights Books
Publish Date: 11/01/2016
Dimensions: 6.80" L, 4.90" W, 0.40" H
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