PositiveThe Believer... invites and rewards attention. And it seeks out not only understanding, but the ways in which that understanding might emerge ... While narrative drives most chapters, the book insists on contemplation ... There’s a quality of vigilance that spills into the relationships and conversations she describes ... not everyone’s ideal of love or friendship, but at least for those of us who cherish close reading, it’s often engrossing to read ... even amid my initial misreading and resistance, Just Us compelled me ... Both imagine and engage their audiences in such complex networks that even to disagree is to enter more deeply, becoming more aware of our own impulses, seeing more clearly what she’s describing and—although it might take took a long time to admit it—what she asks ... Rankine struggles to move with the same clarity outside of a white/black dichotomy ... Her range is further limited by what seems like a significant blind spot. Just Us focuses primarily on the places of economic privilege where Rankine lives and moves, and yet she doesn’t say much about class outside the realm of her own affluent circles. While she does, for example, address the impacts of racial disparities in generational wealth, she concentrates on the disparities between her and a white friend who owns a house as nice as hers ... I’m not sure Just Us makes good on everything those first two books promised. It’s by far the longest of the three, but it also feels smaller in scope and less agile in its reach ... while she’s retained the variety of Citizen—its magpie materials and techniques—they less often feel like a product of necessity this time around, gathered up in an urgency they therefore reflect, and more like a pastiche ... That wanting, that hunger for life and honesty and the surprise of recognition, the surprise of change, change here, animates Just Us at its best, and it’s in that aspiration that the book most often achieves the vitality of conversation, the ongoingness that is its own image of hope (keep talking) even as it describes this world and all that it destroys.
PositiveSlateA few pages into her second collection, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, I start to feel that I’ve entered a word where seriousness is unwelcome and sentiment suspect—where outrageousness is essential but actual outrage, mine or anyone’s, is altogether out of bounds ... Lockwood’s \'Rape Joke\' is not just the most shared poem in the still-short history of social media...It is also one of the most amazing poems I’ve read recently. Not only does it do the things I imagine her poems won’t; it does them uniquely well precisely because of those qualities that make me think they can’t ... Much of Lockwood’s poetry performs her freedom from expectations—the unwillingness to have her writing hemmed in by the strictures of taste or even the bounds of physics—so in this line the act of naming, so plainly, her common human vulnerability devastates me ... Subversive, ingenious, a little elusive, and, yes, funny, that two-word last line, like the poem as a whole, is Lockwood at her best.
Cathy Park Hong
PositiveSlateShe isn’t looking to capture the past, present, and future so much as she’s taking her turn at restitching the crazy quilt of associations that make up our hyper-informed view of everything around us. Part of what makes that worthwhile is Hong’s ability to turn her language into more than pastiche, developing styles of writing that feel dense with the historical richness of the English language ... This is especially true in the first section, where the bent idiom of our imagined Wild West anchors her mythy serenades ... And yet: If Hong is pessimistic about humanity, she strikes me as a remarkably happy pessimist, one who finds the absurdity of people and culture endlessly fascinating, which leads to a persistent sense that the value of the book may not line up with its values ... Hong ends Engine Empire with a move that’s both brilliant and frustrating ... For some readers, that dissatisfaction may feel like an honest and necessary conclusion. But others may feel that kind of dissatisfaction needs no reiteration, and there’s just as much honesty in looking for ways to sustain ourselves.
PositiveSlate...an oddly quiet and disquieting collection ... The book is a mix of good manners and postmodern invention. At her most outlandish (a poem in the form of a sentence diagram, for instance), Szybist still sounds relatively conventional. At her most conventional, she’s up to something strange ... At times, her language feels uninspired, immaterial. There’s something too plain about it, too willing to settle for an ideal that has gotten small—\'Already it’s hard to remember / how you used to comb your hair\'—and then some repeated note reframes it, and then, a couple pages later, Szybist has made it haunting again.
RaveSlateThe descriptions are willfully plain, brief and numerous, and the efficiency of Rankine’s prose lets them build up with the force of fact. They are, of course, not as objective as they feel, but that’s part of the point ... Addressability is at the heart of Citizen, the reason that her \'you\' marshals such immediate force and leaves behind such intimate unease. It’s the reason that \'for white people\' is so problematic, even outside its historical echoes. In saying, even implicitly, who we’re speaking to, we say who we’re willing to exclude ... The depth to which actual violence roots in the blindness of our speaking is essential to Rankine’s argument—that in persistently erasing the reality of being black, we’re damaging the very same, very human bodies we fail to recognize ... one of the best books I’ve ever wanted not to read ... Its genius—and after having spent so much time, some of it reluctant, with this book, I do think that word is appropriate—resides in that capacity to make so many different versions of American life proper to itself, to instruct us in the depth and variety of our participation in a narrative of race that we recount and reinstate, even when we speak as though it weren’t there.