Review: We Want Our Bodies Back

moore provides a blueprint for how to veer outside of fixed expectations and still remain unflinching in her love for herself.

Literature

We Want Our Bodies Back, jessica Care moore

 

In her fifth book, We Want Our Bodies Back, jessica Care moore meditates on what it means to inhabit a body. Set to be released March 31, 2020 by HarperCollins, she is the first Black woman poet to be published by the company since Gwendolyn Brooks, whom she cites as an inspiration. moore has called the book a call to action wrapped around poems. To say that this book is revolutionary is an understatement.

 

Born in Detroit, moore is a poet, playwright, producer, and performance artist. She is the author of poetry books such as The Words Don’t Fit in My Mouth and Sunlight Through Bullet Holes as well as books that combine poetry and prose such as The Alphabet Verses The Ghetto and God is Not an American. She also has a memoir titled Love is Not The Enemy. She is the CEO of Moore Black Press, a publishing company created in 1997 and dedicated to amplifying the work of poets. moore is also the executive producer of Black WOMEN Rock! an homage to funk and soul singer Betty Davis performed by women in the rock music genre.

 

moore begins We Want Our Bodies Back with a dedication to Sandra Bland, Ntozake Shange, and all our beautiful fierce feminine bodies. This sets the tone for what to expect: an ode to womanhood and an ode to Blackness. We know that trauma is held in the body and through the book’s title, moore urges us to take ours back: to love them, to forgive them, and to honor them. She writes: "A constellation of poems live inside their wombs / waiting to be born again." A rebirth is always possible.

 

The book talks about politics and the myriad ways that America has tarnished Black bodies, including her own. She writes about the sexual assault she experienced as a child, but doesn’t stay stuck in trauma. She reckons with what it means to be a Black girl that doesn’t fit into a predetermined box.

 

She says: "never had a pedicure or smoked marijuana / a flirtatious/shy confident virgin / I didn’t know I was pretty / An awkward black girl / didn’t know how to braid hair or curl / or straighten properly with heat. (still don’t)."

 

moore provides a blueprint for how to veer outside of fixed expectations and still remain unflinching in her love for herself.

 

But this love doesn’t come without pain. She writes about being a world-renowned writer at the same time that her son’s health insurance gets cancelled. It opens a conversation about universal healthcare and it being a basic human necessity and right. moore writes, "Self care is not a catch phrase, it is simply what is / Necessary when you aren’t poor enough for federal / Welfare." Where you live, the color of your skin, and your body determine if and how you are treated in the world.

 

She calls art a thankless job by asking "exactly what does being a Legend pay?" Can a gift also be a burden? When does it stop being enjoyable and more of an expense? How can you be a creative person and work without applause? These are the various questions moore begs readers to confront.

 

While moore meditates about art, healthcare, and politics, she also puts herself in conversation with the archive of Black women that came before her and paved the way. They made it possible for her to express everything about herself, even if it’s ugly and complicated and messy. Some women she mentions include Nina Simone, Ntozake Shange, Aretha Franklin, Ruby Dee, and Alice Coltrane. She dedicates entire poems to some and briefly mentions others, but the effect is the same: paying homage to women who were unafraid to be themselves and own their bodies.

 

I believe that one day a Black girl is going to have a poem in her own book dedicated to moore, thanking her for her honesty, transparency, and for seeing them.

 

Her poem titled "Vertigo Woman" dedicated to poet Sonia Sanchez, a leading figure in the Black Arts Movement, stands out for me the most.

 

"She loves us. And it makes us love / us better. Sonia gives us permission to live / aloud inside our magic. To not be / confined to definition and taught me / to own the space I was in while I was / in it. / Bits of pieces of us all over the planet / become whole when we discover you."

 

Reading it, I thought about the effect art can have on the soul and what it means to feel seen by a writer who shows you her face and helps you feel comfortable doing the same. I thought about a writer being so brutally honest and relatable that you feel someone peering into your soul and witnessing your life. You do not exist in vain.

 

moore writes to and about Black women, shifts her own self-perception, and then asks us to do the same. If they can be great, why can’t you? Paying homage to Black geniuses only further proves that you have the same potential. We too can be messy and wonderful and take full ownership over our own bodies and art.

 

moore writes that "we are busy outliving our circumstances," and this book shows us how. She writes with familiarity, like she’s inviting you to sit at her kitchen table as she tells stories about your own beauty in hope that you’ll believe her. And even if you don’t, it doesn’t stop it from being true. Sometimes we need to be reminded of our potential. She invites us to take her hand as we walk through this book. There will be heartbreak and pain and laughter and joy. It won’t be easy. But we’ll get there together, with our magnificent and earthly bodies.

 

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Literature, Poetry, Women, Black bodies, Trauma