Book Review: Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems by Ntozake Shange (2017)

January 29th, 2018 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

“i am more dangerous than noreiga”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Netgalley. Trigger warning for rape.)

all things are possible
but aint no colored magician in her right mind
gonna make you white
i mean
this is blk magic
you lookin at
(“my father is a retired magician”)

i haveta turn my television down sometimes cuz
i cant stand to have white people/ shout at me/
(“from okra to greens”)

we need a god who bleeds now
whose wounds are not the end of anything
(“we need a god who bleeds now”)

Wild Beauty falls into that weird, nebulous category of “poems I’m not sure I completely understand, but am mostly smitten with anyway.” A mix of new and previously published poetry from Ntozake Shange, Wild Beauty is enchanting and seductive and, occasionally, raw AF. Shange explores wide-ranging issues, including race, gender, sexuality, love, the military-industrial complex, the police state, the process of creating art, and the centrality of music in her life. As is par for the course with poetry, I wasn’t convinced that I was always picking up what Shange put down, but I was happy to come along for the ride anyway. Well, more or less: it’s true that I did skim a few of the pieces, but these were few and far between.

Among my favorites are “my father is a retired magician”; “toussaint”; “live oak”; “irrepressibly bronze, beautiful & mine”; “rise up fallen fighters”; “7 tequilas gone”; “the stage goes to darkness”; “crooked woman”; “about atlanta”; “who needs a heart”; and “pages for a friend.” I fear that “crack annie” will stick with forever, though not in a good way; the poem is written from the pov of a mother who facilitates the rape of her seven-year-old daughter in exchange for drugs, and it is simply haunting. “ode to orlando” is as well, though in a more melancholy (as opposed to nauseating) way. Written in the days after the Pulse nightclub shooting, Shange reflects on how the tragedy did – and could have – impacted her own family. (Shange’s daughter is gay and has in fact been to the club.)



Preface • xi
Prólogo • xv

Translating Ntozake Shange • xix
Traducir a Ntozake Shange • xxv

we need a god who bleeds now • 3
from okra to greens • 5
my father is a retired magician • 9
for all my dead & loved ones • 13
once there were quadroon balls • 17
tango • 19
toussaint • 21
just as the del vikings stole my heart • 31
on becomin successful • 33
nappy edges (a cross country sojourn) • 35
i heard eric dolphy in his eyes • 41
expiriese girl wanted • 51
lady in blue • 57
take the A train • 59
dream of pairing • 61
lady in blue II • 63
lotsa body & cultural heritage/ • 65
loosening strings or give me an ‘A’ • 67
never mind sister • 71
a third generation geechee myth for yr birthday • 73
i live in music • 77
latin night is monday • 79
mood indigo • 81
lady in brown • 91
18 march 1984 • 95
live oak • 97
box & pole • 99
hands & holding • 101
tropical dance • 105
lovin you is ecstasy to me • 107
between a dancer & a poet • 109
new orleans nuptials • 113
irrepressibly bronze, beautiful & mine • 117
“if i go all the way without you where would i go?” • 125
rise up fallen fighters • 131
elegance in the extreme • 137
chastening with honey • 139
wrapping the wind • 143
in the blueness • 145
7 tequilas gone • 149
the stage goes to darkness • 151
telephones & other false gods • 155
the old men • 167
crooked woman • 169
dressing our wounds in warm clothes • 173
crack annie • 175
about atlanta • 185
who needs a heart • 191
people of watts • 193
lady in red • 197
new world coro • 199
walk, jump, fly • 203
fame on all fours • 207
lizard poem • 215
five • 223
pages for a friend • 231
these blessings • 233
a word is a miracle • 235
an actual poem • 237
ode to orlando • 239
mama’s little baby • 234
chicago in sanfrancisco & you • 245

Acknowledgments • 249
Credits and Permissions • 253

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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