Book Review: The Poet X

the poet xThe Poet X
by Elizabeth Acevedo
Young Adult/Poetry
357 pages
Published 2018

This is another much-hyped book – and oh man, did it stand up to the hype. Told entirely through poetry, this novel was extraordinarily powerful, and had me sobbing near the end. Xiomara is an amazing character, and her poetry shows us her emotions more than prose ever could.

I’ve always loved poetry for that reason; especially poetry that plays with formatting – spacing and line breaks and size of stanzas. It’s so much more evocative than simple paragraphs of prose. (My favorite poet is probably e.e. cummings, who is rather infamous for unusual formatting.)

Acavedo does similar things, making Xiomara’s poetry explode across the page when necessary, and ordering it into simpler stanzas in calmer moments. It’s not rhyming, even poetry; this is written slam poetry. And I love it.

Xiomara is Dominican, living in Harlem, with a very strict, religious mother. Her twin brother is gay but not out to their parents; Xiomara is fine with this but knows their mother won’t be. Her poems cover her need to protect her brother and herself, both from their parents and from the outside world. She writes about street harassment and questioning God and falling in love with a boy, which is also against her mother’s rules. Her poems are at turns heartbreaking and joyous, but always beautiful.

This is an amazing book, and is the second book on my Best of the Year list. I am blown away.

From the cover of The Poet X:

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours her frustration onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers – especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

When she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she knows that she could never get around Mami’s rules to attend, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems. 

Because in spite of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

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Happy World Poetry Day!

Today, March 21, is World Poetry Day. Started in 1999 by UNESCO, World Poetry Day is meant to celebrate linguistic diversity. I actually didn’t realize this was a thing until yesterday, so I don’t have any recent poets to talk about. I do, however, have a copy of T. S. Eliot‘s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats on loan from the library at the moment! I actually did not know until very recently that Cats, one of my husband’s absolute favorite musicals, was based off a book of poetry! It seems that many, if not most, of the songs from Cats are almost direct lyrical pulls from the poems. If you haven’t seen Cats or read the book, well, first, FIX THAT! (I can’t seem to get the entire thing to embed, but you can follow this link to the playlist of the entire musical.)

The book is tiny, only about 50 pages long. It’s a fun little read about different cats, from the obstinate Rum Tum Tugger who only wants the opposite of what you’ve offered him, to the lazy Gumbie Cat who sits around all day but teaches the mice manners at night. There’s our badass alley cat Growltiger, and the magical, mysterious Mr. Mistoffelees. If you’re a cat lover, you’ll enjoy the poems. They’re cute.

And then there’s this twitter thread I ran across today that I was amused by – and it eventually mentions my T. S. Eliot book!

Are you reading anything for World Poetry Day?

Book Review: The Odyssey

odysseySo with John Green starting his second run of Crash Course Literature, I realized there are a few classics I’d never read. The Odyssey by Homer being one of them. I snagged Robert Fitzgerald’s translation from the library and became enthralled. I wasn’t expecting it to be so easy to read! For being a 462 page poem, it flowed incredibly well and kept my attention the entire way through.

The Odyssey is the story of Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, who went away to fight in the wars in Troy caused by the abduction of Helen. This story takes place after the war is over, when everyone – or almost everyone – has gone home. Odysseus, through a series of mistakes and misfortunes, has been marooned on an isle for many years, and his family has begun to think he’s dead. Sons of most of the nobles in Ithaca have taken residence in Odysseus’ palace, courting his queen while eating his food and drinking his wine. His queen still waits for him, and puts off her suitors in a variety of ways. (The most famous of which being her claim that she must finish a weaving before taking a suitor, and while she weaves every day, she unweaves her work at night, but the suitors figure that one out and make her finish it.)

One thing kept bugging me through the entire story, though – while much is made of Odysseus being gone, and his trials, and the people waiting for him at home – the fact that his ENTIRE CREW OF SHIPMATES, heroes all, dies on the journey is somewhat glossed over. Maybe it’s my history as a military spouse, but what about THEIR families? There are surely women and children waiting in Ithaca for them as well, but nary a mention is made of them. Only the King’s story is important enough to talk about. In a 400 page book, is a paragraph about the other families too much to ask? I suppose, given how long ago the book was written, the fact that Homer writes sympathetically (albeit briefly) about a woman’s suffering for her husband might have been revolutionary on its own, and asking for some concern for anyone lower than a Prince would be unheard of.

That aside, it’s an amazing story. Here’s John Green’s take on it: