Dreamlike, polyphonic, multivoiced, sacred, and profane—Erica Dawson’s book-length poem When Rap Spoke Straight to God encapsulates the multifaceted presence of black womanhood in America ... Dawson’s lyric also exists on a higher plane. But as with every other allusion and mode of voice in When Rap Spoke Straight to God, biblical and mythological references come with a side of the prosaic and mundane. Dawson mixes biblical and mythological allusions with references to rap in the same breath ... The many voices of When Rap Spoke Straight to God echo the myriad stories of black America: art and struggle, past and present—and future.
Dawson plays with many tropes—light and dark, the spiritual vs. the corporeal—while questioning the everyday myths that surround us ... Fans of traditional verse forms may already have Dawson on their radar from her previous collections, but in this one, the mash-up of forms within the longer epic poem does something unique. I had the impulse to go on a kind of traditional forms scavenger hunt within the book – here is a sestina! here is a sonnet!—but ultimately had to curb that impulse... In When Rap Spoke Straight to God, Dawson carves a space within the tradition for her own innovative voice: Here is a black female voice simultaneously working out of that tradition, and against that tradition, making it wholly new.