Winner of the Spring 2020 Black River Chapbook Competition. The poem from which BLACK UNDER derives its title opens with a resounding declaration: I am black and black underneath. These words are an anthem that reverberates throughout Ashanti Anderson's debut short collection. We feel them as we navigate her poems' linguistic risks and shifts and trumpets, as we straddle scales that tip us toward trauma's still-bloody knife in one turn then into cutting wit and shrewd humor in the next. We hear them amplified through Anderson's dynamic voice, which sings of anguish and atrocities and also of discovery and beauty.
BLACK UNDER layers outward perception with internal truth to offer an almost-telescopic examination of the redundancies--and incongruences--of marginalization and hypervisibility. Anderson torques the contradictions of oppression, giving her speakers the breathing room to discover their own agency. In these pages, declarations are reclamations, and joy is not an aspiration but a birthright.
It is rare to see such work as Ashanti Anderson's BLACK UNDER dive so deeply, head-first and unflinching, into history, taking it under one's wing as if their own body and blood lived those traumatic experiences, housed those moments of joy. To prepare myself for audacious lines such as 'Oh, fluted ribcage, won't you sing, ' would be impossible. Anderson is a fierce storyteller, unmaking and recreating images, shifting what language can do--will do. Oh! There is such beauty in clear lines like 'This is how I pray for you when I'm not pessimistic' or, 'I tried staring at the sun once because I needed a metaphor.' You, too, will wish for metaphorical moments when Anderson whips such beauty across the page. And trust, you will get one, but it will not be what you expect.--Luther Hughes
This book is polyvocal and kaleidoscopic; searing with slick acrostics, incisive self-portraiture, wry sixteen-line sonnets & ironic job descriptions ('Career-Changing Opportunity!') seeking Black artists willing to 'draw blood and conclusions'--to carve a living from death and intergenerational trauma. BLACK UNDER defies strict categorization, save for the fact that it is altogether excellent. Ashanti Anderson reminds me that, given the right pitch, 'this bubbled mouth ain't a sick it's a cure.'--Marcus Wicker
Ashanti Anderson's refusal and rise in this collection recenter me in my communities, and in my Chicananess. Because the speakers in BLACK UNDER are fully aware of the white gaze and are absolutely unconcerned with its survival. Instead, they're focused. Anderson writes, 'I erased my smile in another poem because someone said it made no sense, ' and follows with, 'if you want blood I will have for you my red wet grin.' I've read these poems again and again, and every time I leave like--it's we time. With lines like 'throat unbuttons its sound, ' and 'I wish trumpets for my last breath, ' we end up communing with people who remember themselves, over and over, the way they were, and the way they are and are and are.--Sara Borjas
Poetry. African & African American Studies. LGBTQIA Studies.