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The Fat Black Woman's Poems: From the winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry 2021 (Virago Poets)

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At best, such roles allow her a kind of folksy wisdom, but never intellect or theoretical complexity. Which cultures, which counter ideas of beauty and wit, which alternative exercises of intelligence are (purposely or inadvertently) excluded from its small remit?

When Fiona Sampson quotes this poem in her book ‘After the Lyric’, she redacts the two stanzas that stand out to me, the third and fourth, from ‘The fat black woman want / some bawl’ to ‘All the sleepless droning / red eyed wake nights’. She had felt the brunt of rejection from the poetry gatekeepers for so long that these new poems no longer made even the smallest attempt to please them. I love the style, which uses patois and onomatopoeia to make the reader feel like the words are being spoken aloud. In 2010, as his illustrious career was drawing to its close, it was widely assumed that the two friends and Nobel laureates, Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney, would be going head to head for the prize.Also, downloading offline maps from Google is a game changer in case you find yourself in an area without SIM card or wifi accessibility. Growing up on the south side of Chicago, Sesali Bowen learned early on how to hustle, stay on her toes, and champion other Black women and femmes as she navigated Blackness, queerness, fatness, friendship, poverty, sex work, and self-love. The slight nacks, cuts, discolouring, or other imperfection are part of their character and you will hopefully love them none the less! On the one hand, the critic in me accepts that ideas of beauty, cultures of aesthetics are socially constructed. Here in the present ocean of this essay are massive philosophical ideas about aesthetics and the appreciation of art – ideas that have carried on from Aristotle to Hegel to Kant, back and forth questions of whether beauty is inherent or socially constructed, on whether aesthetics as a discipline belongs to the sciences or to philosophy?

This book talks about not just being a fat woman but being a fat, Black women with other marginalized identities as well with the backdrop of Trap music. From the overtly political 'Go Home' to the deeply personal 'Full-time'; the narrative poems that offer vivid and unapologetic snapshots of inner-city life, such as 'His Mistakes', 'Believer' and the anthemic 'My City'; to the provocative social commentary in 'Lazy Dog' and. Seriously nobody cares and its so liberating to be one of plenty of plus size women of all ages enjoying the sand and sunshine in bikinis, topless or whatever we feel like, rather than worrying about how much space we are taking up. I am certain that it isn’t a fault of memory but the poems in Johannesburg were not the ones I had heard in Jamaica.OVERALL: It is a short/thin, accessible book, which would be good for those starting to explore poetry as well as poetry-lovers. She desires to be the author not just of poems, but of her own death, or at least the rituals that will inevitably surround her dying. Still, there are days when I think if anyone were to read that poem, and in this landscape, and not only to read it, but to solicit from the timid audience a chant of ‘More Fire’ or ‘Jah!

And that’s the problem: how do you get a rhythm which approximates the natural experience, the environmental experience? Despite her strong sense of self and her humorous outlook, it is not always easy for the Fat Black Woman. But despite all the beauty, complexity, and general badassery she saw, Bowen found none of that nuance represented in mainstream feminism. Deliciously inert and self contented, the fat black woman mocks oppression by the scandal of being herself.

I thought about the black-American comedian Chris Rock, who has questioned the notion of ‘black progress’. A summarising worksheet containing a dozen features of this collection of poems, with a worked example and space for students to record supporting textual evidence for each feature.

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