Taking its name from the moon's dark plains, misidentified as seas by early astronomers, The Black Maria investigates African diasporic histories, the consequences of racism within American culture, and the question of human identity. Central to this project is a desire to recognize the lives of Eritrean refugees who have been made invisible by years of immigration crisis, refugee status, exile, and resulting statelessness. The recipient of a 2015 Whiting Award for Poetry, Girmay's newest collection elegizes and celebrates life, while wrestling with the humanistic notion of seeing beyond: seeing violence, seeing grace, and seeing each other better.
"to the sea"
great storage house, history
on which we rode, we touched
the brief pulse of your fluttering
pages, spelled with salt & life,
your rage, your indifference
your gentleness washing our feet,
all of you going on
whether or not we live,
to you we bring our carnations
yellow & pink, how they float
like bright sentences atop
your memory's dark hair
Aracelis Girmay is the author of two poetry collections, Teeth and Kingdom Animalia, which won the Isabella Gardner Award and was a finalist for the NBCC Award. The recipient of a 2015 Whiting Award, she has received grants and fellowships from the Jerome, Cave Canem, and Watson foundations, as well as Civitella Ranieri and the NEA. She currently teaches at Hampshire College's School for Interdisciplinary Arts and in Drew University's low residency MFA program. Originally from Santa Ana, California, she splits her time between New York and Amherst, Massachusetts.
Girmay (Kingdom Animalia), winner of a 2015 Whiting Award, crafts a moving collection of lyrical, image-thick poems that balance on the knife edge separating vulnerability and unapologetic strength. The lives of Eritrean refugees and immigrants serve as the collection's thematic foundation, though Girmay also thoughtfully dissects and examines blights of America's current sociopolitical climate, particularly police brutality and the murders of such young black women and men as Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell. The ideas of diaspora, alienation, and separation whether borne by the devastating legacies of slavery or the heartbreaking necessities of political asylum are viewed as the repetitious and stubborn waves of history: "memory has long skin, it counts// the invasions, the factories & ports & rails." However, these ideas are never treated as the heritage or sole narrative of particular peoples, but rather an indictment of colonialism and nationalism. In "Prayer & Letter to the Dead," the sea operates as a metaphor for lives squandered and lost under the banner of imperialism. Girmay's ruminations on King Leopold I of Belgium address the devastation he inflicted upon the Belgian Congo and its people, further revealing how racism is not a series of discrete incidents, but a pervasive web of relations. Girmay effortlessly slips between collective history and personal memory, tackling the subject of black pain without victimizing herself or exploiting the voices of the marginalized.