Every month, we shine the light on a book from our collection – one which is new to the library, which has been particularly enjoyed by a borrower, recommended by a volunteer, or which seems salient to the month’s events or happenings. To see the archive of past books of the month (formerly book of the week), click here.
The current book of the month is…
March: Say Her Name by Zetta Elliott
Zetta Elliott’s collection ‘Say Her Name’ is very much of this moment, being a response to the social movements which gained traction in 2020 around Black Lives Matter. But it speaks to a much older history of racism and oppression, while seeking to empower and energize a new generation of Black women and girls.
Elliott’s poetry is undeniably political, and in that is the personal experience of being a Black woman. The poems recount the everyday microaggressions, describe coping mechanisms of self-care (the simple things that need to be done “to make it through / another day”), and reflect on the human cost to protest and struggle: Appetite is a two-line poem which reads “sometimes I eat my rage / sometimes it eats me”.
The poetry itself is striking, the language is accessible but strong in its clarity. Many of the poems are characterized by short phrasing, line breaks creating a chant or protest song. Where the poems grow lyrical, it is to expound on the magic of being alive, of being oneself, of surviving. Throughout the collection are haiku sequences, a form which is effective in bringing into bold focus a series of simple, profound images or ideas. Elliott uses these to great effect, whether she reflects on ancestry, independence, sisterhood, or the final sequence in the collection: a battle cry to “stop killing us stop / killing us stop killing us / stop killing us STOP”.
The power of the collection is amplified by the bold illustrations throughout. These are as much a part of the poems as the words: they give richness and colour which celebrates the magic described in the poems, but also assert depictions of Black characters which are often so woefully lacking from the pages of so many illustrated books.
Besides Elliott’s own writing, the book is peppered throughout with poems by other Black women throughout history: Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, Phillis Wheatley. The collection is a valuable handbook of Black women writing their own stories, and writing to remind anyone reading to be brave, to speak up, to never forget, and above all “feel something / feel something / feel something.”
Say Her Name is in the Many Voices Collection, a new project by OPL and The Children’s Allotment. To find out more please click here.