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The Black Ladies Brunch Collective

The Black Ladies Brunch Collective’s Poetry Anthology, Not Without Our Laughter, (Mason Jar Press, 2017) is a collection of humorous and joyful poems, riffing on Langston Hughes’s novel Not Without Laughter. It explores topics of family, work, love and sexuality. The women of BLBC believe, like Hughes, that even in these currently tense racial times, laughter and the celebration of life is crucial. Historically, it is what African Americans have done and will continue to do, no matter what challenges face them.

Blurbs

The Black Ladies’ Brunch Collective cooks up some hot truth in this house party of a book. We get boogaloo and peas, we even get food in our panties. These poems are the wild that comes just before the cops bust up the party! We bleed glitter and ride a Harley. Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth hook up while Prince goes commando. This party offers therapy too. We do yoga and then burn the yoga mat! These poems heal and believe. They argue and sweat with fever. Thesepoems also survive—just like the amazing women who wrote them. But mostly, these poems laugh—the kind of laughter that keeps us all alive.

– Joseph Ross, author of ACHE

Not Without Our Laughter is brilliantly addictive. A collection of talented voices that lyrically blends poems full of passion, pain and perseverance in an honest and sobering way. Not Without Our Laughter offers a rare perspective with insight we all need to experience.

– D Watkins, New York Times bestselling author of The Beast Side and The Cook Up

Come, celebrate with me these necessary poems of vulnerability and connection, sex and survival, humor and history.

– Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

In Not Without Our Laughter, six innovative poets have created a collection that sings and laments, inspires and defies and, above all, celebrates. These poems evoke laughter, sadness, passion and pride through lyrical explorations of what is desired and what is forbidden, what threatens and what helps us endure. Readers will find their own lives reflected here and will return to this collection often to access the joy, honesty and panache it so richly conveys.

– Jane Clarke

In body-splitting, heart-baring poems, Not Without Our Laughter rocks you nearly sane. The Black Ladies Lunch Collective spill it hard and beautiful: imagine all this machinery just to love. As celeste doaks says: We find divinity wherever the hell we want.

– Jan Beatty, Jackknife: New and Selected Poems, University of Pittsburgh Press

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Not Without Our Laughter: Poems of Humor, Joy & Sexuality

Celebrating the Humor and Humanity of Black Women in Not Without Our Laughter

08/18/17

Written collaboratively by the Black Ladies Brunch Collective, Not Without Our Laughter: Poems of Humor, Joy & Sexuality is a book of poetry that centers the voices of six black women: Saida Agostini, Anya Creightney, Teri Ellen Cross Davis, celeste doaks, Tafisha Edwards, and Katy Richy. Editor celeste doaks posits that this book, itself a riff on the Langston Hughes title Not Without Laughter, offers “temporary shelter from the storm” of present-day racial injustice and gives voice to the experiences and laughter of black women. These voices, says doakes, have often been marginalized in the struggle towards equality, a struggle which would ultimately be lost without the laughter and voices of black women. And rightly so. The collection is riotous—often times humorous, but seasoned all throughout with devastating moments of depth that give punch to the levity.

The book is divided into sections of varying lengths by theme, with such titles as “…Our Lists and Litanies” that complete the phrase “Not Without…” They run a gamut of personal experiences and daydreams, from fantasizing about other women’s husbands to the ethical dilemma of getting rid of a mouse. The majority of the poems take on a conversational tone, with the exception of those poems like “Prince—Album Cover” that utilize reverent, elevated language for the sake of comedic effect: “With the lavender dreamscape behind him/ who was this god, naked astride a Pegasus?” Throughout, the poems bring a wide range of nuance and diversity to the black female identity and experience, which emerges, along with the empowerment found in vulnerability, emerge as an overarching theme throughout the book. Though the book features six different poets, the work as a whole is unified in its voice, tone, and execution of vision.

The collaborative format of the collection functions on a variety of levels. Although the collection is edited by a single editor (celeste doaks), and although the poems are written by individual poets, this book does not read like an anthology or themed journal issue. Beyond the identity of “black female poet” that the six women of the BLBC share, the voices, forms, and themes of Not Without Our Laughter share a thematic flow. For example, Anya Creightney, Saida Agostini, and Tafisha Edwards all write at least one poem in prose form, without line breaks, and there is an entire section in which various poets take on the poetry-as-list format. Though the handling of these forms varies, the repetition of their use by different authors lends an overall visual and stylistic cohesion to the book.

Poems in the book interact specifically with each other, as well. As readers will see from some of the italicized subheadings in the by-lines of each poem, there are poems in the book that are written as specific responses to other poems. While there is inconsistency in the effectiveness of the response poems—some, such as “Kamal and Beebee” come “after” poems that appear later in the collection, while others such as “Finding the Divine” read more like criticisms of the poems to which they are responding than as standalone poems—there are some response poems that are true gems. “Atomic Snowstorm” takes the words from “Ars Poetica with Fever” and scrambles them to create a new poem with a unique meaning. “Knowledge of the Brown Body” responds to “harriet tubman is a lesbian,” itself a poem about reimagining historical heroes as queer, to riff beautifully on the risks and implications of loving a black female body during the era of slavery. “If Harriet Tubman had been a lesbian,” the response poem says, “I would know the brown body had been/ valued outside of chattel, to the point of risk.” Actively engaged with the prior poem, “Knowledge of the Brown Body” takes the concept of one poem, a poem about a queer woman re-writing history to create a queer hero, and exploring the implications of that concept in a new way, i.e. what impact a queer hero from the slave trade era could have on black women and “the brown body” universally. It is moments like these where the response convention really electrifies the work as a whole: a woman’s personal desire for a hero that speaks to her own identity becomes universalized, valuable to anyone with a brown body. These responses speak to the book’s overall theme of nuancing the identities of the collective while also unifying them. Regardless of the strength of each individual response poem, the response poem convention overall makes for a dynamic work that engages, re-engages, and rethinks its subject matter and themes much like an individual poet’s collection of work would do. This work is alive and engaged within itself, more so than an anthology or journal that merely collects the work of various authors, occasionally centered around a loose theme or aesthetic.

Nonetheless, there was one way in which the multi-author collective could have taken this convention even further. That is, it may have served a book written by a collective to have some actual individual poems written by multiple authors. Not Without Our Laughter does a great job of maintaining visual, stylistic, and thematic cohesion throughout. Still, where can one really draw the line between a “collectively written” book of individual poems and a well-curated anthology? A couple of multi-authored or collectively written poems may have gone a long way. Nonetheless, the collection still stands as a cohesive collective work in its continuous self-referencing and its sharing of form among poets throughout the work.

As is the case in many multi-authored books, there are inevitably poets whose work rises to the top. Saida Agostini and Tafisha Edwards emerged for this reader as the standouts in the collection. Agostini’s language and imagery is ablaze without fail throughout the collection, starting with her first poem “Adventures of the Third Limb,” a hilarious but touching ode to the speaker’s dildo and the way “she” brings the speaker and her girlfriend together: “she is fluent in seven languages, drinks dos equis, can paint, sing gospel,/ praise dance and is head usher at the church of dynamic discipleship.” Readers of Not Without Our Laughter will have their eyes light up when they turn a page to find her name italicized below the title, promising strange and fresh perspectives on familiar archetypes, historical figures, bodily functions, and amorous encounters. Likewise with Tafisha Edwards. One of her poems, “Top Billing,” begins “Starring My Pussy as” and goes on to list a litany of invented roles that range from hysterically funny to heartfelt and empowering, including “Doom of Man™” and “My own Mound of Oshun.” Like Agostini, Edwards stands out as a strong, highly developed, intriguing voice throughout the book. This is not to suggest that the quality of poetry in the collection is overall inconsistent—though readers may at times find themselves wanting more from some of the poems by celeste doakes in light of the overall more powerful voices of her five counterparts. Rather, Agostini and Edwards provide two voices that further electrify this otherwise highly energetic collection of work.

In a supposedly “post-racial” society that still commodifies, dehumanizes, overly romanticizes, and overly criticizes the lives and choices of black women, Not Without Our Laughter does something radical and important: it features poems about black women being purely, unapologetically human. This is a book of poetry that values honesty and humor over self-seriousness, and yet the book does not lack depth as a result. Mason Jar Press has a true gem on its hands in this book by the Black Ladies Brunch Collective, and it is a gem you’ll want to get your hands on.

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