Today I have such a special post to share with you–I’m participating in a digital book tour for Arisa White‘s new poetic memoir (coming out March 1, from Augury Books: preorder here): Who’s Your Daddy. At the end of this post you’ll find a bio of White, who is impressively accomplished.
Who’s Your Daddy is a poetic memoir, a genre-blend that feels more intimate than a poem–without coyly obscuring the identity of the speaker. But it also holds the reader at the distance of poetry, framing the story with line breaks and metaphor without overt analysis. The tension between how much and how little is revealed draws the reader into the arc of White’s story. As the title suggests, the central question is about understanding her father and how he, and his absence, have shaped her as a person, partner, and writer. How will she find herself despite, and because of, her lack of connection to her father?
Like a memoir, each poem feeds into the next, unfolding the story of Arisa’s relationship to her father, Gerald, and her exploration of how that relationship (and its lack as well) have shaped her life. She gives us impactful glimpses into her childhood–being mocked for using food stamps, fearing her mother’s boyfriend and his violence, and seeking the refuge of friends who know not to ask about fathers. Gerald’s absence casts a longer shadow than she initially realized, stretching into her self-understanding and self-determination as an adult.
White’s psychological insights about absence, loss, love, and identity are powerful, perhaps in part because they are poetically framed and succinctly put. She does not overanalyze, but boils each question down to its core.
“What if The Father isn’t The Answer and I’ve been seeing it all wrong. There is an unequivocal honesty to Gerald’s absence—it is reliable and transparent and hasn’t done or said otherwise. Can’t I see that?
“What I know is that absence breeds madness, an irreconcilable relationship you know is there but can’t call it by its name, can’t leave it because it’s a tree with its root collar breathing around your neck.”Who’s Your Daddy page 94
White and her partner, Mondayway, travel to Guyana, “the land of many waters,” to (re)meet Gerald, and her descriptions of place and culture are beautiful. But it’s never just description without thoughtful awareness of the undercurrents or motivations of a place.
“It is Masharami. The music started blasting at 7AM. Reggae, calypso, soca, chutney, hip-hop. And people are finding their way to the parade route. It’s not even noon and it is hot. I’m underwhelmed. The West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn had better floats. Mondayway points out that the cultural politics of conservatism unravel with all the whining, grinding, and booty shaking. I can easily hold what appears to be a contradiction. It’s all that water in the body; ocean waves residing in marrow, and when the wiggle is unleashed, as Big Freedia says, it is mimicking currents, turning back or moving forward time. Generating a spiral motion to collapse boundaries between spiritual and material, to restore us to our polyrhythmic accordance with life.”Who’s Your Daddy page 106
I won’t spoil the ultimate discoveries that White makes about her father and herself, but they are satisfyingly grounded and compassionate. Her whole journey here reads as an invitation to acknowledge the things that have shaped and hurt you in order to forge your best path. And she models this is a beautifully poetic yet direct way.
ARISA WHITE is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess, Post Pardon, Black Pearl, Perfect on Accident, and “Fish Walking” & Other Bedtime Stories for My Wife won the inaugural Per Diem Poetry Prize. Published by Virtual Artists Collective, her debut full-length collection, Hurrah’s Nest, was a finalist for the 2013 Wheatley Book Awards, 82nd California Book Awards, and nominated for a 44th NAACP Image Awards. Her second collection, A Penny Saved, inspired by the true-life story of Polly Mitchell, was published by Willow Books, an imprint of Aquarius Press in 2012. Her latest full-length collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, was published by Augury Books and nominated for the 29th Lambda Literary Awards. Most recently, Arisa co-authored, with Laura Atkins, Biddy Mason Speaks Up, a middle-grade biography in verse on the midwife and philanthropist Bridget “Biddy” Mason, which is the second book in the Fighting for Justice series. She is currently co-editing, with Miah Jeffra and Monique Mero, the anthology Home is Where You Queer Your Heart, which will be published by Foglifter Press in 2021. And forthcoming in February 2021, from Augury Books, her poetic memoir Who’s Your Daddy.