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Staff picks October 2021 - Black History Month specials

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African American poetry : 250 years of struggle & song / Kevin Young, editor.
(Library Of America, 2020)

Kevin Young has just been shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize for his latest collection Stones (Cape, 2021) but he's also an anthologist working to redress the white bias of the US canon, and this ambitious publication is testament to his research. Starting with the first African American poet to publish a book of poetry, Phillis Wheatley, the book is divided into sections, taking the reader through different periods of African American poets to the present day. The perfect introduction to groupings such as The Harlem Renaissance Poets or the Black Arts Movement, it’s also a wonderful book to open at random and encounter a new voice. 

--Chosen by Lorraine Mariner

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Zong! As told to the author by Setaey Adamu Boateng by M. NourbeSe Philip
(Wesleyan University Press, 2008)

I first came across Zong!  while shelving in the library. The hardback book is unusually large; the pages fell open to reveal words scattered in wave-like patterns, almost like sound frequencies painted with words. Waves float across the cover, too. In 1781, the English captain of the ship Zong ordered for 150 enslaved people to be thrown overboard so that the ship’s owners could collect their insurance. Philip’s rendering of the massacre is ‘equal parts song, moan, shout, oath, curse, and chant’, excavating ancestral voices alongside official documents. Throughout the book-length poem, Philip deliberately places blank space above each ‘word cluster’, giving breath and voice to those who were no longer able to breathe. 

—Chosen by Nina Powles

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Poor by Caleb Femi
(Penguin, 2020) 

Can the sublime only be felt in nature? In ‘Poor’, the sublime exists everywhere - in the concrete blocks of South London, corner shops at 2am and the space underneath “Frank’s white Air Force Ones”. Caleb Femi describes the book as a continuation of the English Romantic tradition in poetry — where the sublime is something that exists in the world already — and in this sense it is about how you and your community define and relate to the sublime in your physical environment. Most of all the collection is a gift to his community — past, present and future — and a celebration of the magic within it.

— Chosen by Emily Wood