poetry: misogynoir & racism are the targets in this nigerian-american’s unapologetic book

July 26, 2018
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By Arielle Gray*, AFROPUNK Contributor

One of the most inspiring things about our constantly evolving literary landscape is the way black and brown poets and authors have reclaimed language- and have also reclaimed silence and space as well. The rise of writers such as Nayyirah Waheed has emphasized a new form of poetry and storytelling, a form that makes as much use of things unsaid as the things that are spoken. It’s a blueprint that turns the approach to poetry on its head, an approach that is absent of superfluous language or verbiage.

Nigerian American poet Ogorchukwu does just that in her new chapbook ‘the geometry of being Black’. Her poems rarely take up more than half of a page in the 174 pages of the work, yet her words never fail to pack an evocative, emotional punch. There’ s something to be said about writers who are able to pour so much emotion into a poem comprised of so few words- it is a different sort of linguistic alchemy. ‘the geometry of being Black’ is a reminder that words, more often than not, are only partially apt descriptors of the Black experience- the rest of the “geometry” is felt, not read. English is after all the language of our oppressors, one of the “the languages you made us eat” that is “foaming at our lips”, Ogorchukwu points out (166).

‘The Geometry of Being Black’ is arranged into 5 sections, a visual and literal break down of the architecture of our Blackness. The sections simultaneously epitomize the experience of being Black and the journey of coming to love and accept one’s Blackness in a white supremacist culture. receiving is the first section- these poems unabashedly address the ways white supremacy trims our Blackness down to size, to make it something more palatable for non-POC to digest. The section is perfectly summed up by one of the most poignant (and shortest) poems of the section- “the fear of having to birth blackness in a world that is afraid of the dark” (17).

Ogorchukwu explores the long lasting impacts of colonialism, using visceral metaphors of rape and exploitation to underscore the very real rape of indigenous land/bodies for resources.

“the way the earth
recoils as you thrust
for resources
she did not
you could take.
did you not learn
that even continents
must consent?” (12)

The next two categories, internalizing and unlearning, are odes to the poison we swallow and the harrowing process of regurgitating the poison. There is a wealth of tongue and mouth imagery, representative of the languages and cultures we are forced to consume, despite knowing, whether consciously or subconsciously, that these things were not created to honor us. Ogorchukwu laments on the loss of her indigenous language, a loss passed down from a mother “who swallowed her own language” and gave birth to a child with no tongue. Unlearning is an exploration into the painful steps of dismantling our own inherent anti-blackness. Here anti-blackness manifests itself as physical symptoms, which Ogorchukwu banishes through physical and metaphysical means such as ritual, the “resetting of bones” and affirmation.

The chapbook closes out with loving and resisting , the final steps. Ogorchukwu guides us down a river of wholly accepting Blackness, both hers and our own. The shortest poem makes its home in resisting – “take up space” are the only words, stark and lonely in a page of white. This piece is perhaps one of the most striking, precisely because of its meaningful brevity. Whether we only have three words to speak or a stream of them , our bodies deserve to take space, to make themselves heard in a world that would render us silent. It is no mistake that these few words, deep and black, dominate the rest of the white space of the page- it is a commentary on the strength of our stories and tongues.

‘The geometry of being Black’ is much more than a chapbook- it is a process. And Ogorchukwu is documenting her own journey just as much as she is documenting the collective experience of finding redemption in Blackness. This chapbook is an effective transition from bared teeth and darkness to a laying of hands in the name of healing, through poetry. Ogorchukwu sums up our attitude after reading the ‘the geometry of being Black’ in one of the few last poems.

“i will never
stop eating.
these books
fill my mouth
with the words
to fight oppression”

Arielle Gray is a Boston-based writer, poet and music journalist. She currently writes for the music website KillerBoomBox, while moonlighting as a freelance writer with work published through various mediums, including For Harriet and SoulBounce.