I’ll Fly Away by Rudy Francisco
Published by Button Poetry, 2021
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This collection is definitely at its strongest when Francisco tackles the topics of systemic racism and police brutality against Black people. In these pieces, there are some excellent, gut-punch lines that cut right to the quick.
By contrast, the more insular, personal pieces are often hampered by overly-simplistic, clumsy imagery. It’s possible, however, that these lines would have more impact in a live setting, since I believe the poet comes from a performance background.
Frank, accessible, and contemporary in tone; I can certainly understand Francisco’s popularity.
Thank you to the publisher for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
100 Times by Chavisa Woods
Published by Seven Stories Press, 2019
Rating: ⭐ ⭐
I feel very conflicted about this one, and am pained to not be writing a more positive review. It’s a case of a book that I hugely admire and recommend for its intention, but which I found frustrating in its execution.
It chronicles, in a very matter-of-fact way, 100 examples of sexism that Woods has faced throughout her life, in an attempt to show just how pervasive it is within society. It’s exhausting and infuriating to bear witness to such a relentless string of harassment, abuse, assault, dismissal, intimidation, and condescension. I don’t underestimate for a moment how gratifying and powerful it will be for many women to see the reality of the injustice they face put to paper so clearly. Woods’ perspective as an openly queer woman, and her acknowledgment of the unique struggles faced by women of colour and transgender women, add some very welcome intersectionality.
On the other hand, the text is very repetitive. In terms of some of the anecdotes shared, this is deliberate; serving to show how monotonous and normalised misogyny has become. With regards to the simplistic prose, it’s a little harder to excuse, with the same phrasing used time and time again. This lack of light and shade, coupled with an almost regimented structure and tone, means some of its power is lost. There are also many examples in which Woods’ response to sexism is to immediately retaliate with physical violence: punching people, pushing them to the ground, spitting in their face, repeatedly striking them on the head, etc. I want to be clear that self-defence against threat or violence is a totally different matter, but generally speaking, I’m not a massive fan of combating problematic behaviour with further problematic behaviour. The ‘angry feminist’ trope is already used by those who seek to dismiss the validity of the movement; I couldn’t help but worry this book will fuel their misguided argument.
So, while I didn’t gel with the way she chose to deliver her message, the core point that Woods sets out to make is an important one, and I respect her frank refusal to accept inequality. There are definitely stylistic and personal preferences affecting my response, so I don’t doubt others will connect with it more than I did.