Winner of the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry (2017)
Acclaimed poet Shane McCrae’s latest collection is a book about freedom told through stories of captivity. Historical persona poems and a prose memoir at the center of the book address the illusory freedom of both black and white Americans. In the book’s three sequences, McCrae explores the role mass entertainment plays in oppression, he confronts the myth that freedom can be based upon the power to dominate others, and, in poems about the mixed-race child adopted by Jefferson Davis in the last year of the Civil War, he interrogates the infrequently examined connections between racism and love. A reader’s companion is available at wesleyan.edu/wespress/readerscompanions.
McCrae (The Animal Too Big to Kill) continues his confrontations with American racism in his superb, if occasionally long-winded, fifth collection. He splits the text into four sections of lyric poems, with the second featuring a prose "memoir" series. Within the memoir persona, McCrae intersperses poems that use Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his adopted mixed-race son, Jim Limber, to explore the complications of losing one's own racial identity within a family dynamic: "My Daddy's white so I don't get his face." Much of McCrae's work here wrangles with being trapped in a history where one is treated inhumanely and with constant suspicion, with those feelings reflected or projected back on those responsible for that treatment. "Whether you're here/ to see me or to see the monkeys// You're here to see yourselves," he writes. As McCrae makes clear, having to constantly negotiate the boundaries of one's otherness leads to an internal tug of war: "Listen I do a thing to piss a white man off// I'm bound to that man's will hell/ I'm bound to that man's pleasure/ He got me on a level where he doesn't even have to think/ And all I do is think about him." With a raw honesty, McCrae refuses to shy away from the effects of oppression and faces up to those not willing to acknowledge their part in a history many want to forget.