We Want Our Bodies Back by jessica Care moore

I bought the brand-new poetry collection We Want Our Bodies Back by jessica Care moore for the cover. I loved the three women, all different shapes, and hoped for a strong feminist collection with a focus on women taking control of their bodies by wrestling them from the patriarchy. That’s a lot to dump on a cover, I know.

The entire collection is feminist with an emphasis on black and brown lives in America. The titular poem describes the physical, emotional, and spiritual abuses perpetrated upon the black community:

We want our bodies back
We want them returned to their mothers
without blood without brains exposed
without humiliation without bruises
without glass without fire

In several places Care moore calls out specific names, such Eric Garner and Mike Brown remembered in a poem entitled “I Can’t Breathe,” and Sandra Bland, making the collection resonate now in American society. While some poetry collections last forever for their ability to speak to something in humans, Care moore’s poems are more like snap shots of a moment, the poetic call and response to the murder of Emmett Till in 1955 and those like him.

History isn’t just for remember those who died of violence, but the voices that uplift the next generation. Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Maya Angelou, and especially Ntozake Shange are muses for several of Care moore’s poems. As a fan of Davis’s and Dee’s movies, the poem “Dear Ossie, Dear Ruby” delighted the romantic in me, as Care moore captures their marriage of almost sixty years:

do you still love to get on your toes
to reach his nose
kiss his neck
Is she still your Juliet, in a Spike Lee Joint
Is he still Da Mayor, Mother Sister

The reference to the characters Davis and Dee played in Spike Lee’s movie Do The Right Thing reconnects readers with a powerful time in film making and cultural criticism. People lost their minds when Do The Right Thing first came out, but Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee play two fighting old neighbors who are really in love, like flowers that decided to grow in a busted up parking lot in spite of the environment. In this way, Care moore’s poems can be timeless without being old, stodgy, too grand.

Beyond the meaning behind the words is a rhythm that’s pleasing. The poems aren’t classic rhyme schemes, nor do they appear to follow a formula, but organically grow until you can hear the spoken word consideration in what you’re reading — and for the sheer enjoyment, I would recommend the audiobook over paper. One powerful example of Care moore’s ability to rhyme without coming off as trite is in the poem “Gratitude is a Recipe for Survival” in which she’s in line at the welfare office with her son and runs into a college student who says his class is reading her work. How do we care for artists financially? Care moore writes:

Hoping to not look like i'm doing well
Doing well doesn't go with the chairs in this office
I'm thankful and embarrassed
The same day I was booked for a show in Paris
asked to deliver a Keynote at another college
My son's health insurance was canceled by the state
and the preschool says i owe them 3 thousand dollars
Before my son can continue
in the new year.

The slant rhymes — office/embarrassed/Paris and college/dollars — create an auditory experience that leaps off the page and almost makes you want to beat a gentle rhythm on the table as you read. I’m not surprised; Care moore is a slam poet, but many speakers struggle to get their spoken art onto the page successfully.

jessica Care moore’s collection We Want Our Bodies Back is excellent, powerful reading in America, and if you’re not American, you’ll find it enlightening.

25 comments

    • I don’t like the kind of poetry that a writer has to explain to me for me to glean anything from it. I got that a lot when I was in a creative writing program and we were required to go to all the readings. The poet spends several minutes explaining where the poem comes from, and then you can see all the connections. But without that introduction, a lot of modern poetry makes zero sense.

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  1. Wow, this sounds incredible, and perfect reading in light of current events. Perfect reading for any time, of course, but I’m sure it will feel especially impactful to read right now. Great review! Adding to my list.

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    • It’s wild — I took a grad course called Black Detroit. It was a history course I signed up for eagerly because I’m from Michigan and truly believe Detroit is a unique, amazing city with a vibrant culture that has a struggling and poor management over many decades. In the course, we talked about TWO Detroit “race riots,” as they are called in history. Reading moore’s poetry, I feel like I’m studying the Detroit race riot of 1943 and 1967 all over again.

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  2. I can see why poetry works when it does work but … I just can’t bring myself to read poetry collections on the off chance they do work. This poetry does work and I’m happy you showed it to us. I get the impression the bodies she wants back are Black bodies rather than women’s bodies. But doesn’t she express the writers’ dilemma perfectly, being successful and still being poor: “Hoping to not look like i’m doing well”

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    • YES. You’re totally right about the clash of poverty and success. I attended an online reading last night by a poet who said that he doesn’t even try to make money off of art. Instead, he teaches and uses that as an opportunity to education people, who then may seek out the art.

      I’m very specific about the poetry I read. I can’t stand when a poet needs five minutes to introduce a poem so that it makes sense and then calls us ignorant when we don’t “get” whatever nonsense they put on the page if we read a poem without the context. I want the people’s poetry. It used to be everywhere, and I’m not sure when we took poetry out of the hands of people and into those of the academics making things obtuse.

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    • It’s definitely not a collection that you need to know how to read, but simply FEEL. I recommend it to those who are hesitant about poetry especially. It’s in the style of slam poetry, so you’ll hear the “song” of the rhythm in your head. And it’s not abstract nonsense like so much poetry today.

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  3. I love the sound of this-where did you find out about it? Also because of what you wrote i was prompted to look up the trailer for Do The Right Thing-looks like an awesome movie! It seems like it could be released today and still be talking about the exact same things…

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  4. I am not a poetry person but I the First Mate is. He believes that poetry is taught incorrectly in the American school system. I can find poetry in Shakespeare being spoken correctly but all the poetry readings I have been too (back in me early days) just didn’t work. The exception being some of the slam poetry which did occasionally float me boat. I think because it felt more visceral and told stories. It didn’t need to be explained and just had to be felt. I don’t know if I would like this poetry collection but I would be willing to try and listen to it in audio book form. I can’t read poetry on the page. Though when the First Mate reads poetry out-loud to me I sometimes can enjoy it. It’s just not the medium I would ever chose for meself. Kinda like graphic novels. I get why others love the art form but it rarely works for me.
    x The Captain

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  5. This sounds wonderful and timely. Personally, I always read poetry in audiobook form. I find that since I don’t hear words spoken aloud in my head, I miss a lot of the rhythm, connection, and intention in how the words play together if I merely read them. Did you read or listen to the text?

    I will admit, my knowledge of recent black history and celebrities isn’t… great. I had to look up Davis and Dee. I know the names of Gartner and Brown, but I’d need to refer to the specific incidents related to them. Do you think this will dampen my ability to connect with the text?

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  6. This book sounds very timely. I don’t consider myself a poetry person, but the snippets you quoted sound accessible and very punchy to listen to. I might have some difficulty with the “snap shot” of events style, though, since I’m not entirely familiar with all the references. Would you recommend prior knowledge of the events to be able to fully appreciate the poems?

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