Book Review

POETRY MONTH: Produce Poetry Or Die. by Narada Voux Sanders

realising i read poetry looking for poets, not poems

cw: racism, miscarriage, violence

Weeeeohhh! Whoa, whoa, whoa!

Whoa!

We are deep into POETRY MONTH here at TriumphOfTheNow.com, inarguably the English speaking world’s best (to my knowledge) “literary lifestyle blog”.

Let’s chat more poems, more poets and more poetry! 

This book, Produce Poetry Or Die. (PPOD.) is a 2020 publication by Narada Voux Sanders and is – I believe – the first publication I’ve looked at this month (though it won’t be the last!) which was provided as a complimentary “review copy”, rather than being a book I paid for myself and/or was gifted and/or acquired via some other route.

PPOD. is print-on-demand (POD), but this is not meant as a criticism from me: many of the poetry books I’m looking at this month are POD, as are most of the books I have had published myself, and my own TRUTHER PRESS is fully POD (so far) – get that poo book now!

So, yes, lots of POD texts throughout POETRY MONTH (it makes sense – poetry isn’t the most popular of literary styles and I can say that “as a poet”), but Produce Poetry Or Die. seems to be the first that has been totally self-published, and the only reason why it seems this is not because of any jarring layering or design issues, but rather because there is no name of a publisher on the cover and – something which I’d never realised was so standard despite being, arguably, unnecessary – no author bio.

There is no author bio at all.

There is no paragraph.

There is no sentence, there is no social media tag or a link to a website, to tell me who is Narada Voux Sanders.

Because through the course of this very-long-for-a-book-of-poetry (over 300 pages!) book, Narada Voux Sanders uses and writes poems in an array of different voices, which collectively evoke a disparate set of locations, varied and incompatible lived experiences, personal histories and personal ideologies, as well as stylistic and tonal shifts, too.

Is this a problem, for me, as a reader?

As someone who predominantly looks for the autobiographical truth – the biographic context – of the things that I read, this is something I expect even more in poetry than in prose. (Outside of poetry, the sci-fi I’ve enjoyed the most was the Octavia Butler short story collection and the Doris Lessing novella that both follow genre text with personal essay[s] tying the very very fictional to the very very lived.)

I have no idea who Narada Voux Sanders is.

Does that negatively affect my reading experience?

I think it does, but I don’t know if it should.

I also don’t know if I believe my interest in autobiographical context when reading a book of poetry is something I should seek to curb.

I suppose I don’t open a book of poetry looking to find poems, I go to a book of poetry looking to find poets.

I don’t know how rare I am in that.

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In Produce Poetry Or Die. there is a genuinely impressive array of poetic styles and forms on show, going beyond standard poetic forms (lyric, free verse, ballad, blank verse, prose poetry, concrete/visual poetry all feature) to incorporate incredibly experimental pieces such as a codex and an extensive stylised glossary comprised of (some of) the many neologisms Sanders includes throughout the book. Some of these are portmanteaus mixing standard English verbs and nouns, some use standard prefixes and suffixes in unusual contexts, some are abbreviations, some are combinations of multiple different abbreviated forms of different words, some contain elements from different languages, and there are a couple listed that aren’t even new words at all. 

There are multiple poems before the book signals its own beginning (like a poetic “pre-credits sequence”), and there are one or two pieces after the glossary, too. These poems, when referred to in the glossary, are simply listed as appearing on “unpaginated” pages. These sections of the book function in lieu of the introduction and/or acknowledgements and/or author bio one would more typically find bookending the poems inside a book of poetry. I didn’t dislike this as a device, and aside from a handful of completely blank pages with no discernible purpose at multiple points in the book, the layout of the various pieces in here – many of which, as I said, are visually very different – all look great.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this collection, and I think it is a perhaps very millennial trait of mine to expect a collection of poetry to have a sole authorial/narratorial voice throughout.

There are poems here about being young, about being old, about being desired, about desiring, about the politics of gender and race and sexuality, and there is a real pansexual element to the overall reading experience: feminised and masculinised bodies are both eroticised throughout, and seemingly both from the perspectives of masculinised and feminised bodies in turn.

In absence of an author bio, could it be that Narada Voux Sanders is a collective? Could these very varied pieces be coming out of very varied people? I don’t think so, I think this is instead a thorough and powerful polyphonic collection.

There are poems here about murder and abuse, about racism and revenge and death, but there’s also a lot of joyful material here too, it’s not all violence and horror.

///

Highlights include:

  • an untitled, pre-opening poem with the line: “If you isolate yourself for too long, / You’ll fall into poetry.”
  • from ‘Impoetry Much?’ the line “To some, it’s written art”, which is a good description and discussion point for all poetry, right?
  • a style called “metrical venting” used for humorous poems of righteous anger
  • a poem called ‘Misafrikist’ about self-image and self-hatred and the links between racism and ideas of self, which opens with: “In your reflection you see – Africa. / Who told you to look in the mirror / And hate her?”
  • a piece titled ‘Poetic Patience (A Fine Art)’ about the need to take time with creative practice: “You’re forcing me / To push out babies / I’ve not yet conceived.”
  • A super interesting formal style in a piece called ‘CLoset’ that uses giant letters to form parts of multiple words across multiple lines in every stanza
  • A beautiful, brief, piece about miscarriage titled ‘Robbery’
  • A fun, bitchy, heavily rhythmic piece called ‘FAT (THE RAPOETRY)’ that mocks – wittily, if outside of the “body positivity” movement – another’s body
  • A powerful piece about racist microaggressions in gentrified spaces titled ‘You’re. Not. Welcome.’
  • A fun piece playing with non-standard spellings which is totally legible (due to the inconsistencies of written English) called ‘Sté, Don’t Stré’
  • A very potent and confrontational concrete/visual poem about lynching called ‘HANG; HANG; HANG;’ that forms hanging bodies from the letters that form a racist slur
  • A piece about grief following a death by stabbing that has the letters forming the word “knife” (also the title of the poem) forced through the middle of the text, interrupting the flow of the poem

There’s lots to enjoy here, with a huge amount of variety and change in tone/pace/voice and style. Though, yes, it could be argued that it might be a more satisfying readerly experience if the selection process had been a little stricter, but at the same time the cacophonous sweeps and changes are what make Produce Poetry Or Die. sing as riotously as it does.

Absolutely worth a go! (Order directly here)

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