Lord of the Butterflies

Rating: ⭐
Author: Andrea Gibson
Genres: Poetry
Pub. date: Nov. 2018 (read Nov. 2019)

Poetry can be a bit tricky to review sometimes, so more often than not I don’t write a full review for it. But I was so impressed with Andrea Gibson’s anthology, Lord of the Butterflies, that I have to make an attempt at a review.

Poetry is definitely not for everyone and it’s something I’ve only recently started reading. I’d read the occasional novel written in prose and started easing into poetry a few years ago with Rupi Kaur’s anthologies, which are pretty easy reading if you’re new to poetry (which I am). Then I discovered Robert Service when I read The Great Alone last year and I am totally obsessed with his style of poetry. I’m still working my way through a few of Service’s anthologies, but I haven’t been able to find any other works of similar style or subject, so if anyone knows of any poetry that centres around a love and reverence for the outdoors, please let me know!

Anyways, Gibson’s poetry is a whole different kind of beast than Robert Service of course, but equally as enjoyable (for me) in a whole different way. I dabbled in some other poetry this year, reading Danez Smith’s, Don’t Call us Dead, and Ocean Vuong’s, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, but to be honest, both were a bit over my head. I really liked Gibson’s poetry because it had an incredible amount of depth, but wasn’t filled with so many metaphors that it was a slog to wade through.

Gibson’s poems focus on our sorts of topics, from gender and sexuality, to mental health and depression, to politics and reform. They’re not afraid to be honest and vulnerable and even though me and Andrea are so different, their poetry was so relatable. Apparently Gibson is a pretty well known poet in the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond and they won the very first World Slam Poetry competition in 2008. They have published 4 anthologies as well as a ton of spoken word albums, all of which I am definitely planning to check out. I went through a brief obsession with slam poetry last year after I heard Zariya Allen’s “Somewhere in America” poem, but I didn’t really know where to look for more slam poetry, so I’m thrilled to have discovered Gibson.

It’s hard to pinpoint specific poems that stood out from this anthology because they are all fantastic, but a few memorable ones for me were Orlando, which is about the club shooting in Florida, Black and White Angel, which is about Gibson’s sister awaiting trial in jail for petty crimes she committed while suffering from substance addiction, and America Reloading, which is about America’s lack of gun control and its impact. But what’s make’s all of these poems so powerful is Gibson’s vulnerability and their courage in holding nothing back. They’re not afraid to go to some very dark places, but are so perceptive of how closely entwined everything is in our society and how the system continues to oppress and work against those who do not fit the status quo.

If you’re looking to dabble in poetry and are at all interested in gender politics, I would definitely recommend this anthology!

The Poet X

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genres: Poetry, Young Adult
Pub Date: Mar. 2018 (Read Apr. 2018)

“Burn it! Burn it.
This is where the poems are,” I say,
thumping a fist against my chest.
“Will you burn me? Will you burn me, too?”

Yes! I loved this!

Xiomara is the teenage daughter of Dominican Republican immigrants. Her mom is extremely religious and is adamant that Xiomara be confirmed in the catholic church. Xiomara has always been a little rough around the edges, getting in fights to protect her twin brother and against the lewd remarks men in her neighbourhood make about her body. She just wants to be a normal teenager and date boys like the other girls her age.

She feels repressed in her day to day life and turns to poetry to express herself, which she records in her private journal. She really enjoys writing her English assignments and when her English teacher, Ms. Galiano starts a slam poetry club, she is intrigued because it feels like the poetry is just bursting out of her. But the poetry club meets at the same time as her confirmation class, which Mami would never allow her to miss.

At the same time, Xiomara meets a boy, Aman. She just wants to spend time with him like any other teenager. But her mother is strictly opposed to dating and she is forced to hide her relationship with him. She questions everything in her life, from her mother’s strict rules to the religion that is being forced on her. It becomes increasingly difficult to hide what’s going on in her life and Xiomara becomes more and more at odds with her mother. Poetry becomes the only way she can expresses the conflict she feels building inside her.

I have read so many books lately about latinx teenagers and I have learned so much about latinx family culture (although most of the books were about Mexican culture). What has been hardest for me to understand is the relationship between these American-born daughters and their immigrant mothers. Every single book I’ve read has had the same conflict of strict latina mothers and their teenage daughters trying to break away from the confines of their mother’s perspective and rules. I grew up in a religious home as well, but I can’t imagine the frustration of mother and daughter not being able to relate to each other. My mom can have a pretty strong personality, but she was never anything but supportive and understanding of where I was coming from. I think the difference is that we both grew up in Canada and shared the same cultural perspective, whereas Xiomara and her mother grew up in very different circumstances and struggled to relate to one another.

I always talk about liking gritty books with gritty writing and this is another great example. I recently read I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and The Authentics at the same time and loved the first and disliked the second because one book was so gritty and authentic while the other seemed to have this protective layer of film over the story, lacking any real emotional depth. I had the same experience with this book as I read it at the same time as I read Love, Hate & Other Filters, which I felt had that same disconnect between the emotional potential of the story and the actual depth the author achieved. I am here for the emotions and Acevedo was not afraid to go there in this book. It’s what makes one book great and another book sadly mediocre.

The poetry in this book was fantastic. I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I really love books like this that are not a collection of poems, but a whole story told in poetry. I’ve already picked Brown Girl Dreaming as one of my reading challenge books for April, which I understand is written in a similar fashion, so I’m excited to pick that one up later this month! Definitely recommend this book!