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Review: An “unapologetically political” book of poetry touches on #MeToo and Black Lives Matter

cover of Undocumented: Great Lakes Poets Laureate on Social Justice
Michigan State University Press
The new anthology of poetry showcases regional poets laureate.

Undocumented: Great Lakes Poets Laureate on Social Justice is the title of a new anthology showcasing regional poets laureate. Our reviewer John Freeman walks us through this new collection of poetry.

Undocumented: Great Lakes Poets Laureate on Social Justice is an anthology that acknowledges old questions about whether poetry can affect social change.

The book is unapologetically political. Editors Ron Riekki and Andrea Scarpino have organized this text according to theme and call to action. Each section begins with ideas on how readers can resist Trumpism in all its disturbing manifestations.

For example, the section titled, “Unite,” impels us to “Call a friend or coworker. Organize allies from churches, schools, clubs, and other civic groups. Create a diverse coalition. Include children, police, and the media. Gather ideas from everyone, and get everyone involved.” Coupling poetry with the rhetoric of community organizing has a compelling effect on the readers by reminding us that we as individuals have the agency to offer small acts of resistance and hope that can ripple into larger waves.

Poets in this book channel a wide range of contemporary social justice movements including the #MeToo movement, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the movement for indigenous peoples’ rights.

For instance, former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove’s, “Trayvon, Redux,” highlights the tacit threat that black people face daily in public places. Dove writes, “Thinking / drives you nuts these days, all that / talk about rights and law abidance when / you can’t even walk your own neighborhood / in peace and quiet…” (3).

One of the most exciting features of this book is the inclusion of several youth poets laureate from throughout the US and Canada, including Ann Arbor’s Carson Borbely. Her poem “sophia tells me” is a profound meditation on alienation, mental illness, and self-harm. Borbely writes, “sophia and I compare notes on the way we / and others have left permanent scrapes / on our bodies…” Then later in the poem: “I say but I don’t do that anymore.” The poem ends with the lines, “my mom / taught me, / in italian, there is one word for all of it—cicatrice. Every disfigurement is met / with the same word, tongue cluck, / and handmade salve” (27).

It will be fun to watch the careers of young poets like Borbely, Zora Howard, David Jones, Crystal Valentine, Rebecca Zseder, and Siduri Beckman blossom, as all of these poets contribute stunning work to the Undocumented anthology. Reading their poems reminds us that the future promises to be brighter and more inclusive, despite our current political situation.

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