There’s no time for a long history when the fist is already cleaving through your mouth. So Nabila Lovelace leads us into a preamble terse with the exhaustion only a long war can bring. And make no mistake; in these poems and the country that made them necessary, there’s a war going on outside and no man is safe. “When it wasn’t profitable to bury / us you didn’t & that’s the story / of the ground. Now” There. A history abridged and yet lacking nothing, these are poems built of a righteous and hungry anger and as unabashed in their embrace of emotion and the now as Lovelace’s forebear Jayne Cortez. These poems are a big cousin, a voice we might flee to in the tenderness of having been preyed upon and knowing that our speaker got something ready for our assailants, a whole lineage of fists going back to our “mama’s mama’s mama.”
Lovelace is clear in this, employing DMX’s famous “WHAT” from “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem” with which Lovelace’s second incredible poem shares a title. And in this poem Lovelace’s genius for navigating tenderness and violence, volume and silence is on full and glorious display. Beginning at “I’d cry if shame wore us” the poem proceeding toward“call us something ‘side our name (WHAT)find your spleen spanked (WHAT)You should know (WHAT)we’ve answered anger (WHAT)more times than we haven’t (WHAT)”
Lovelace’s musicality is of a kind that I find too rare in poetry, the speaker seems unimpressed by smoothness with no compulsion to cover the scar or the chipped tooth Lovelace wears the boastful bark.
These poems know in the way Black women have always known, that time is short and that, as Langston Hughes once wrote “We know we are beautiful. And ugly too.” And on “Ugly” Lovelace’s speaker knows and has nothing to prove to anybody “At worst / I’m a sad nigga / tarbabe culpable, / steal your son u – g – l – y” It is one thing to be “unapologetic”, a word perhaps overtrafficked in recent years, it is another for the flinch that precedes “sorry” to never blemish your chipped smile. Lovelace’s poems aren’t concerned with beauty in the traditional sense, they know their stakes, they are “black & / ugly as / ever Alive.” A state of affairs for which I can only say “Thank you” as I turn back to the work of being alive grateful to have these poems running headlong into the war we were born from.