"Full of wonder." —Elizabeth Acevedo
A Best Book of the Year at BuzzFeed, Refinery29, and Entropy Magazine
What makes a self? In her remarkable debut collection of poems, Destiny O. Birdsong writes fearlessly towards this question. Laced with ratchetry, yet hungering for its own respectability, Negotiations is about what it means to live in this America, about Cardi B and top-tier journal publications, about autoimmune disease and the speaker’s intense hunger for her own body—a surprise of self-love in the aftermath of both assault and diagnosis. It’s a series of love letters to black women, who are often singled out for abuse and assault, silencing and tokenism, fetishization and cultural appropriation in ways that throw the rock, then hide the hand. It is a book about tenderness and an indictment of people and systems that attempt to narrow black women’s lives, their power. But it is also an examination of complicity—both a narrative and a black box warning for a particular kind of self-healing that requires recognizing culpability when and where it exists.
Birdsong debuts with an extraordinary string of immaculate, brutal narratives about systemic violence and racism, and their repercussions for Black American women. Her linguistic structure is kinetic and eclectic, with moments of macabre spectacle: "I want you to rot,// piece by piece, with everyone you know unwilling// to enter the room not because they love you,// but because they just can't take the smell," as well as intrinsic dread: "your body is all asymptotes and fractals.// your own skin splinters in the dark/ from its dense heat. the pieces// come back together under a halo of prescriptions/ steeping your head in yellow light." Birdsong seamlessly shifts narrative perspectives, tones, and syntax, skillfully controlling enjambment and white space. Despite grim motifs, her work harnesses levity through sardonicism, riveting diatribe, and unromantic resilience: "I am destined to infuse/ survival with meaning," she writes, inviting the reader to "feel powerful enough to translate each ache/ into inquiry." Birdsong's striking imagery and contagious fervor are a potent salve against apathy and foreboding.