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Robin Coste Lewis and Evie Shockley at the 2018 L.A. Times Festival of Books

Robin Coste Lewis discusses Voyage of the Sable Venus, and Evie Shockley discusses semiautomatic at the 2018 L.A. Times Festival of Music.

FROM THE PUBLISHER (Voyage of the Sable Venus):
Robin Coste Lewis's electrifying collection is a triptych that begins and ends with lyric poems meditating on the roles that desire and race play in the construction of the self. In the center of the collection is the title poem, "Voyage of the Sable Venus," an amazing narrative made up entirely of titles of artworks from ancient times to the present—titles that feature or in some way comment on the black female figure in Western art.

Bracketed by Lewis's own autobiographical poems, Voyage is a tender and shocking meditation on the fragmentary mysteries of stereotype, juxtaposing our names for things with what we actually see and know. A new understanding of biography and the self, this collection questions just where, historically, do ideas about the black female figure truly begin—five hundred years ago, five thousand, or even longer? And what role did art play in this ancient, often heinous story?

Here we meet a poet who adores her culture and the beauty to be found within it. Yet she is also a cultural critic alert to the nuances of race and desire—how they define us all, including her own sometimes painful history. Lewis's book is a thrilling aesthetic anthem to the complexity of race—a full embrace of its pleasure and horror, in equal parts.

FROM THE PUBLISHER (semiautomatic):
Art can't shield our bodies or stabilize the earth's climate, but Evie Shockley's semiautomatic insists that it can feed the spirit and reawaken the imagination. The volume responds primarily to the twenty-first century's inescapable evidence of the terms of black life—not so much new as newly visible. The poems trace a whole web of connections between the kinds of violence that affect people across the racial, ethnic, gender, class, sexual, national, and linguistic boundaries that do and do not divide us. How do we protect our humanity, our ability to feel deeply and think freely, in the face of a seemingly endless onslaught of physical, social, and environmental abuses? Where do we find language to describe, process, and check the attacks and injuries we see and suffer? What actions can break us out of the soul-numbing cycle of emotions, moving through outrage, mourning, and despair, again and again? In poems that span fragment to narrative and quiz to constraint, from procedure to prose and sequence to song, semiautomatic culls past and present for guides to a hoped-for future.

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