Mini Reviews || 5 poetry books from female voices that need to be heard!

Hey, everyone! It feels like forever since I last did mini reviews by batch. I have never really been great at writing concisely, so I’m generally more comfortable with longer and more comprehensive reviews. However, with a total of 54 read-but-unreviewed titles, my review backlog has gotten pretty daunting and overwhelming – hashtag the struggle is real.

For this batch of mini-reviews, I’ll be sharing five poetry collections from female voices that definitely need to be heard by more people! Four of these poetry books were written by women of color, namely, Blue Bird by Magda Ayuk, milk and honey by Rupi Kaur, Women of Resistance by multiple authors, and Sisters’ Entrance by Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud. Unfortunately, I decided against finishing Women of Resistance, which was definitely one of my more anticipated poetry titles in this batch. The details of my reading experience with it will be elaborated later in my review. Here we go!



Title: Sisters’ Entrance
Author: Emtithal Mahmoud
Genre: Poetry
Copy: Digital ARC
Rating:

* More about the book.
* More about the author.
* Purchase via Amazon or Book Depository.

Synopsis:
2015 World Poetry Slam Champion and Woman of the World co-Champion Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud presents her hauntingly beautiful debut poetry collection.

Brimming with rage, sorrow, and resilience, this collection traverses an expansive terrain: genocide; diaspora; the guilt of surviving; racism and Islamophobia; the burdens of girlhood; the solace of sisterhood; the innocence of a first kiss. Heart-wrenching and raw, defiant and empowering, Sisters’ Entrance explores how to speak the unspeakable.

Review:

Let me kick off this review with one particular fact: prior to reading Sisters’ Entrance, I have never rated any poetry collection 5 stars. That alone should already reflect how much I adored Emi Mahmoud’s work, but of course, I do not think I can ever run out of glowing praises about her poems.

Unlike a lot of popular contemporary poetry collections, I was not fed deliberately vague lines and generic content with gaps I could fill in with my own stories; instead, I was gifted with the unadulterated thoughts, feelings, and haunting realities experienced by the author. It was like being invited to see the world and everything in it from the poet’s perspective. More than that, it was like being entrusted with the full weight of someone else’s truth. The poet does not provoke her readers to personally relate to her experiences; but rather, she compels the audience to empathize with her, and on a larger scale, with people who share the same marginalized identities and endure the same injustices. In that empathy, there lies a deeper, more nuanced sense of compassion.

What I’m really trying to say is: Sisters’ Entrance is arguably one of the most important and most hauntingly evocative books I have ever read. Emtithal Mahmoud writes brilliantly, but more significantly, she writes with defiant purpose, inspiring bravery, and empowering honesty. Her work sheds light on socially relevant issues such as genocide, survivor’s guilt, gender-based power dynamics, and discrimination (i.e. racism, Islamophobia), and ultimately, speaks of the brutal realities faced by women of color in contemporary society. The personal impact of this poetry collection on me as a woman of color is unparalleled, and I cannot recommend Sisters’ Entrance enough times!

What makes this different:

I have always been fascinated with contemporary poetry books, but unfortunately, very rarely do I love them. I find that a significant number of popular contemporary poetry share similar structures and styles: universal narratives that are presented aesthetically and largely bank on how easily people can relate to them. A lot of times, a contemporary piece on heartbreak can be interpreted a myriad of ways, from romantic heartbreaks to familial grief.

What makes this one wonderfully different from most contemporary poetry collections is that nothing about its content is vague. Sisters’ Entrance offers a strong feminine voice that not only speaks loudly and clearly, but also, and perhaps more fundamentally, resonates with readers, whether they can personally relate to the experiences or not. Emitithal is an immensely talented storyteller, and in this book, she invites readers into the nooks and crannies of the reality she has to face and oftentimes endure.

Disclosure: I received a digital copy of Sisters’ Entrance from the publishers (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to the publishers for the opportunity!

[Review also available: Goodreads]

Excerpt from the book:

She said, with a shaking voice,
Learn these things, before they teach you.

Death loves a woman, but we are still here.

And the moon is crying, or maybe singing
and the stars look down in mourning
as we melt hatred and weave compassion,
gather the waste from each body
and wield resilience.

We do this every day—make a good thing
out of nothing,
be the strong ones,
be okay even when we’re not.

But today, we’re more than okay,
we are women.
So, take my strength, I’ve got plenty.

Take my hands, I’ve got two.
Take my voice, let it guide you
and if it shakes, ask yourself:

when the earth shakes,
do you think that she’s afraid?

— Excerpt from The Things She Told Me



Title: Glimmerglass Girl
Author: Holly Walrath
Genre: Poetry
Copy: Digital ARC
Rating:

* More about the book.
* More about the author.
* Purchase via Amazon or Book Depository. To be added!

Synopsis:

In her debut chapbook, Holly Lyn Walrath explores the boundaries of womanhood through speculative poems that defy genre. For readers who love Rupi Kaur or Lang Leav, Glimmerglass Girl is as powerful and delicate as a glass-winged butterfly.

Review:

As a short collection of poems, Glimmerglass Girl was a quick read for me. With delightfully lyrical language, impactful images, and a sophisticated flourish under her arsenal, Holly Lyn Walrath offers a myriad of layered female experiences in a very limited number of pages. While I greatly enjoyed most of the pieces, my five favorites were Espejitos, Behind the Glass, Woman, Two Hundred Fifty-Seven, and The Art of Loneliness.

I cannot think of a better title for this book because a lot of the imagery depicted in the poems was shockingly vivid, and at times, graphically violent and fascinatingly morbid – yet, in spite of this, these images were still presented in an almost delicate, poignant manner. Additionally, no matter how dark and ominous the tone became, an underlying thoughtfulness was still palpable. As I read, I found myself constantly startled but above all else, intrigued and wanting to read numerous passages over and over again.

I was not a fan of the complementary artworks that accompanied some of the poems because they made the text more difficult to read. In addition to this, none of them made a lasting impression on me nor were they value-adding to my overall reading experience. Nonetheless, I was immensely fascinated by the text. There were more than a handful of poems I could interpret in more ways than one, which was pretty interesting. Glimmerglass Girl is definitely a haunting yet captivating collection that can easily provoke readers into speculating on the lived experiences of women as well as underlying notions of femininity.

What makes this different:

Glimmerglass Girl may be short in length, but the thought-provoking depth within its pages certainly makes up for the collection’s brevity. A whole, this book is incredibly speculative, introspective, and oddly chilling. I cannot stress this enough: reading these poems really compelled me to reflect on a lot of things.

Disclosure: I received a digital copy of Glimmerglass Girl from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

[Review also available: Goodreads]

Excerpt from the book:

I take up ashes
like taking up space
I am dis-embodying my body
or what I once called skin,
its remnants rounding out,
the insides of a funeral urn
whose curves make sense.

Inside here with me
the afreet’s ghost
and the memory of feeling thin
like a butterfly’s wing
like water in a glass pitcher
like telephone wires
filled with energy
of the me I remember only
in the soft nail beds
and crane’s neck
and boy’s chest
of yesterday.

— Elegy for a Body



Title: milk and honey
Author: Rupi Kaur
Genre: Poetry
Copy: Paperback
Rating:

* More about the book.
* More about the author.
* Purchase via Amazon or Book Depository.

Synopsis:

milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. It is about the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose, deals with a different pain, heals a different heartache. milk and honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.

Review:

I used to follow Rupi Kaur and her works online, and I’ll admit that I used to consider myself a big fan. Around a year and a half ago (that is, January 2017), I received a paperback copy of milk and honey from someone incredibly important to me. I was extremely excited to read everything, but once I actually finished the book, the collection ultimately fell pretty flat and lackluster. Although I still managed to appreciate certain aspects of the book, I was not overly crazy about anything.

milk and honey falls victim to the emerging trend among popular contemporary poetry: minimalist layouts, disregard of proper capitalization and punctuation, random breaks in prose (i.e. without rhyme or reason), cute line drawings, and relatively vague content. A significantly large aspect of its appeal banks on meaningless aesthetic and simplistic language that specifically caters to easy digestion. While – yeah, okay – the poems look very pretty on their respective pages, the text itself has a lot to be desired in terms of style, form, substance and technicality.

In retrospect, Rupi Kaur has an extremely similar style to other popular poets like Lang Leav, who I vehemently dislike(!!!). However, I am still able to somehow appreciate Rupi Kaur’s writing simply because of what she is trying to do: advocating feminism and sharing the overlooked experiences of women, especially women who identify themselves as members of marginalized communities.

While I do think that the poems in milk and honey are stylistically unimpressive, I also believe that this book contributes something worthwhile to a larger picture and a much grander narrative. Rupi Kaur’s works address a plethora of socially relevant messages, such as feminism, family and relationships, self-image, discrimination, trauma, and healing. Her writing style may be overly simplistic and unremarkable on a technical level, but it is also evocative and easy to like. With that said, I do not think that milk and honey offers great poetic masterpieces, but for people who struggle to appreciate poetry (or perhaps have little to no interest in it), milk and honey is an excellent introduction to poems that surpass common themes of romance and heartbreak and that explore serious issues with sincerity.

What makes this different:

As I’ve already mentioned, milk and honey operates in the same manner as a lot of contemporary poetry books wherein their popularity hinges on aesthetic appeal and how easily readers can relate to their content. Honestly speaking, there is not much that makes this book stand out on its own, but what does make milk and honey different lies in the themes and messages it explores. Despite its many shortcomings, I still think that this book might be worth looking into.

[Review also available: Goodreads]

Excerpt from the book:

the first boy that kissed me
held my shoulders down
like the handles of
the first bicycle
he ever rode
i was five

he had the smell of
starvation on his lips
which he picked up from
his father feasting on his mother at 4 a.m.

he was the first boy
to teach me my body was
for giving to those that wanted
that i should feel anything
less than whole

and my god
did i feel as empty
as his mother at 4:25 a.m.



Title: Blue Bird
Author: Magda Ayuk
Genre: Poetry
Copy: Digital ARC
Rating:

* More about the book.
* More about the author.
* Purchase via Amazon.

Synopsis:

Blue Bird is Canadian storyteller Magda Ayuk’s debut collection of poetry and prose. Blue Bird is the necessary and enduring journey of self-love. Ayuk explores this journey through the intersectional pulses of freedom, race, and gender. Blue Bird is the gentle reminder that we are all light beings, and deserve the peace we seek. Blue Bird is warmed by Ayuk’s Cameroonian roots, which drip magic on every page.

Review:

The beautiful woman on the book cover was what initially grabbed my attention. Unfortunately, I did not love Blue Bird as much as I hoped to. I actually have a lot of mixed feelings about the collection, which is largely due to the inconsistency of writing and quality. There were a number of poems that really spoke to me and that allowed me to contemplate on existing issues, but there were also a handful of pieces that came off as odd or sloppy writing.

What I appreciated the most about Blue Bird was that it is a loud, no-holds-barred celebration of diversity, especially for black women. It is blunt, raw, and unapologetic. Magda Ayuk writes about not only feeling comfortable in her own skin, but also, and perhaps more importantly, being proud of her heritage. She also writes about self-image, self-love, and numerous introspective topics with defiance, fierceness and sincerity. In addition to this, this book touches on sensitive yet extremely important topics, such as racism and systemic oppression, although it is more greatly inspired by lighter themes, such as positivity, freedom, and acceptance.

My problems with Blue Bird mainly involved writing technicalities (e.g. style, structure, use of language), lacking poetic devices, and a couple of inconsistencies. Despite this, I believe that a number of people would be able to really identify with Magda Ayuk’s pieces, and on a larger note, her journey as a black woman. Her voice as a poet is refreshingly quirky, unapologetically blunt, and noticeably modern. She exhibits a ton of potential as a poet, and I can only hope that her succeeding poetry books will be more enjoyable.

What makes this different:

I think what makes Blue Bird different is the remarkable distinctness of Magda Ayuk’s voice. The way she writes and the way she weaves her stories together have a particularly modern feel to them. The message Blue Bird tries to instill in its readers is an incredibly essential one.

Disclosure: I received a digital copy of Blue Bird from the author (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Magda Ayuk!

[Review also available: Goodreads]

Excerpt from the book:

to the gatekeepers of poetry:
you say your idols
would roll in their graves
if they knew that me
a woman with pepper in her blood
who centers black women
dare call what she does
poetry
you ignore that your idols are already rolling in their graves at my
mere existence

— your faves were racist



Title: Women of Resistance
Editor: Danielle Barnhart, Iris Mahan
Genre: Poetry, Anthology
Copy: Digital ARC
Rating:

* More about the book.
* Purchase via Amazon or Book Depository.

Synopsis:

A collection with a feminist ethos that cuts across race, gender identity, and sexuality.

Creative artists have reacted to the 2016 Presidential election in myriad ways. Editors Danielle Barnhart and Iris Mahan have drawn on their profound knowledge of the poetry scene to put together an extraordinary list of poets taking a feminist stance against the new authority. What began as an informal collaboration of like-minded poets—to be released as a handbound chapbook—has grown into something far more substantial and ambitious: a fully fledged anthology of women’s resistance, with a portion of proceeds supporting Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Representing the complexity and diversity of contemporary womanhood and bolstering fight against racism, sexism, and violence, this collection unites powerful new writers, performers, and activists with established poets.

Review:

Women of Resistance is a bulky anthology that features feminist prose and poems written by a total of 41 contributors. Among these poets is Elizabeth Acevedo, the author of The Poet X (read my review), and her presence in this project is actually one of the reasons I was very excited to pick this up. In line with this, after discovering that we both recently finished Emtithal Mahmoud’s Sisters’ Entrance, Faguni @ F A N N A and I attempted to buddy read this anthology. Unfortunately, neither one of us had finished reading.

In my case, although the poems themselves weren’t bad—in fact, I’d say that a lot the poems I read were pretty good, there was just something that hindered me from wanting to continue reading. For a poetry anthology with a heavy emphasis on feminism, gender and sexuality, I just failed to feel engaged or even interested for that matter. I initially tried to power through in the hopes that my reading experience would eventually improve, but even after I reached the halfway mark, it still felt like there was a missing piece I couldn’t fully grasp. I even fell asleep at one point.

I have read nothing but positively glowing feedback about Women of Resistance, which makes it that much harder for me to come to terms with the present reality that this just is not my cup of tea for some unfathomable reason. In the end, I completely gave up on Women of Resistance once I read around 57% of the material. But that doesn’t mean I am actively discouraging anyone from picking this title up!

Disclosure: I received a digital copy of Women of Resistance from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

[Review also available: Goodreads]

Excerpt from the book:

i heard a woman becomes herself
the first time she speaks
without permission

then, every word out of her mouth
a riot

say, beautiful
& point to the map of your body
say, brave
& wear your skin like a gown or a suit
say, hero
& cast yourself in the lead role

///
when a girl pronounces her own name
there is glory

when a woman tells her own story
she lives forever

all the women I know are perennials—
marigolds, daffodils
soft things that refuse to die

— Excerpt from A Woman’s Place by Denice Frohman


Now what about you? Have you read any feminist poetry or poetry books written by women of color?

If yes, then send a couple of recommendations my way! I would absolutely love to read more poetry I think it would really help me improve on my own writing. But if you haven’t read any of the sort, then maybe one of these titles could be a great place for you to start, yeah? I’m slightly biased though, and will tell you to pick up Sisters’ Entrance first!


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Published by

Shealea

First of her name. Queen of lists and spreadsheets. Protector of books. Breaker of norms. Iskolar ng bayan.

18 thoughts on “Mini Reviews || 5 poetry books from female voices that need to be heard!”

  1. I’m back to blog hopping after a month and I’m happy I picked this post of yours to read first! OMG, SISTERS’ ENTRANCE YESSSSS! It needs all the stars. I haven’t ever given a five-star rating to any poetry collection either; some are just aesthetically pleasing while some even fail to deliver a message. So I was amazed by this raw collection too ❤ Also, it wouldn't be a surprise to you if I said I posted on my blog after a month and the first thing I posted is Sisters' Entrance review *blushes*

    Can't agree more on Women Of Resistance 😦 I had given up on it but while I was doing the 24in48 readathon last weekend, I thought of picking it up again because what if the best poetries are in the end?? I mean, that's my dilemma whenever I read a collection because you never know! But it didn't excite me much. Some poems are pretty good and the overall message is nice but most of the times I found myself questioning if it was me and my inability to decipher the deep meanings in some poems or is it just the collection. So I somehow read through the other half of the book and gave it 2/5. Haven't written the review though.

    Anyway, this was so much fun to read! I've been meaning to read Rupi Kaur's poetry collection but oops, haven't yet. I hadn't heard of Blue Bird before this and from your review, I think I might enjoy it. Raw, blunt poems can win my heart though I sometimes get super driven by the technicalities of writing so let's see.

    Amazing set of mini reviews, Shealea! ❤

    Like

    1. Read!!! Sisters’!!! Entrance!!!

      Is all I’m saying. HAHA. Like I said, I don’t think milk and honey is a great poetry collection, but I do think it contributes to the larger discussion of what contemporary is and what it could become.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks and yes!!! We do need to support the voices of fellow women. ❤️

      If you know of any more poetry collections from women (especially WOC!), feel free to flood me with recs. 😂

      Like

    1. That’s so great! I’m very happy to hear that. 😊

      I’ll be biased and say that you should definitely start with Sisters’ Entrance first! 😍 But I can’t wait for your opinions on all these poetry books. Happy reading!

      Like

    1. Same here! I’ve been on the lookout for more modern poetry. If you have any recommendations, do share them! 😊

      Anyway. I’m glad I sparked your interest in these titles. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Happy reading! 💖

      Liked by 1 person

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