Calling in Black by Nicholle Ramsey
Published by Talking Drum, LLC
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
In her debut collection of poetry, Ramsey blends personal reflection with incisive social commentary. There is a pleasant rhythm and flow to her style, reflective of her experience as a spoken word performer, and though the language and imagery are largely straight-forward, her unique poetic voice still shines through.
Thematically the collection is certainly at its strongest when Ramsey lays bare the realities of life as a Black woman in a landscape that is inherently racist, capturing the dual persistence of oppression and resistance: “… the phoenix gains strength from / ashes / and we have been burned / for generations”. With that said, I love the way she contrasts the disdain society shows for Black bodies with the love she has come to cherish for her own Black body, some of the pieces as hopeful and celebratory as others are angry and weary.
And while she calls on history, making direct references to powerful names from the Civil Rights movement, she is also not afraid to place her work firmly in the here and now, with namechecks for the likes of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd hitting like a punch to the gut:
“history repeating, strange fruit / skipping on the record player / sandra bland knew the melody / but breonna taylor was caught off guard by the beat / we may pull up the statues, / but miss the roots / it grows, / grows like roses that bloom / in chests of young black boys / and thorns that choked george floyd / as he cried for his mother”
Rousing and impassioned, Ramsey is a poet whose future work I’m excited to follow.
Thank you to the publisher for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon
Published by Penguin, 2020
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Non-binary writer and artist Alok Vaid-Menon presents readers with an eloquent, intersectional, warm, and honest rumination on their experience with gender identity.
There’s a particular focus on the role that language plays in shaping opinion, perpetuating bias, and driving division, as the author discusses why a strict binary system of categorization limits everyone, not just those who opt not to live by it. They also go out of their way to debunk common misconceptions about belief in a gender spectrum, explaining that the recognition of identities beyond the “norm” isn’t an attempt to erase the concept of men and women; simply to allow everyone and anyone to feel at home in their own skin, and comfortable with the language they use to describe themselves.
Being so brief, and offering just one person’s perspective on such a complex, nuanced topic, this was never going to be an entirely comprehensive exploration of gender identity, but it serves as a fantastic and highly accessible entry point.