A Ligature For Black Bodies
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Winner of The 2020 Sexton Prize For Poetry!
In the current discourse about African Americans and police brutality, many of us find ourselves using the words “black bodies” to describe black people. Although this language clearly reflects the physicality of the overwhelming numbers of black people we see felled by police bullets yearly, monthly, weekly and even daily in this country, this seemingly benign act of separating body from breath or body from spirit is a revelatory reminder of the mind/body problem African Americans have been historically forced to reckon with since the first enslaved “negroes” were brought to Massachusetts in 1624. A Ligature for Black Bodies enters the conversation at precisely the point of re-humanizing black bodies into black people by holding accountable the power structures and people who have reified a dominant and destructive discourse. The poems in the collection explore what it means to see the felling of black and brown people through the dash cams and body cams of the police officers that shoot them as well as the cellphones of those everyday citizens who stand as witness. It also seeks to highlight the ways in which these videos from police body cams and dash cams mirrors the taking of pictures of lynchings and then the sending of lynching postcards across the country in the early to mid twentieth century. The viewing of contemporary dying and dead bodies of African Americans made lifeless while surrounded by spectators is one of the driving forces of the manuscript. The found poems and persona poems are meant to read as police, prosecutor, and journalist's "confessions" to the deaths of the African Americans recorded on dash cams, body cams, and cell phones. To root these confessions in truth, A Ligature for Black Bodies sources contemporary news articles, autopsy reports, court testimonies, verdicts, and sentences to illustrate the ways in which , a white power structure has always sought to make bodies out of black people and, because of a racially rooted power structure set up to create and perpetuate racism, how black people have much too often had to reclaim these bodies that have been systematically stripped of breath. The poems are evidence of black people's current striving in this country to convince that same power structure that black lives matter. The final poem, written in the voice of Sandra Bland and written to LaQuan McDonald and Tamir Rice seeks to do just that. The poems refuse the narrative of black people as bodies only. Instead their discourse creates a space where the poems re-member black people's dismemberment at the hands of white people through a journey of truth-telling that shows this same white power structure that black people are people and that the same animating principles that make then human are the same animating principles that make black people human.
Denise Miller is a professor, poet and mixed media artist whose poetry has been published in the Offing, African American Review and Blackberry: A Magazine. They were named the 2015 Willow Books Emerging Poet, an AROHO Waves Discussion Fellowship awardee, a finalist for the Barbara Deming Money for Women Fund, and a Hedgebrook Fellow. Their work titled, Core, was released by Willow Books in 2015 and has since been nominated for a 2016 American Book Award and a 2016 Pushcart Prize. Miller has been named a 2016 William Randolph Hearst Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society. Their chapbook, Ligatures was published in 2016 by Rattle Press. Most recently, they have been awarded a 2020 Storyknife Residency and a 2020 Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing Fellowship. Their pronouns are they/them. More of their work can be found at www.denisemiller.studio.