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.