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Renia White’s debut poetry collection strikes up a conversation, considering what’s being said, what isn’t, and where it all comes from. From her vantage point of Black womanhood, White probes the norms and mores of everyday interactions. In observations, insights, and snippets of speech, these poems look to the unspoken thoughts behind our banter, questioning the authority of not only the rule of law but also of our small talk itself—the concepts we have accepted and integrated without pause.
Casual Conversation imagines a new way of knowing, a way that encourages us to think through how we structure and stratify ourselves, inviting something strange and other to spill out. White challenges us to question whether there is anything casual about this life, even as she invites us to consider other logics and to think alongside each other. This book gives space to hold what we fear out of formality: consequence, embarrassment, anger. It plays, it tarries, it disrupts. It pulls apart what seems sound in an effort to see: what did we make here? How’s it going?
I am only crying because she might want to infer that she’s worth defense.
the fact will be embedded, you see? she is thinking about something
akin to value and the metric is another latch on another outside.
the metric is insisting upon an out that need stay there.
the thing about an unmanned gate is, something can walk right in. then what?
it’s there—inside. equivalent crossed over the flimsy membrane of
don’t come any further simply because you didn’t make it less possible.
"It’s a harrowing collection, with only brief moments of rest and renewal, but it’s a brave book, too, one that insists on the deep and lasting harm of racism."
—David Starkey, for California Review of Books
"Whether waxing philosophical or poetic or recalling the inner monologues of the human spirit living moment to moment in lifetimes, telling tales of tattling, playing the dozens, or testifying, recalling lynch ropes or racial memory, Renia White’s Casual Conversation is not casual nor conversant in the denouement of passivity, but are rigorously passionate inner monologues—interrogations, perhaps—preoccupied with the human eye, ear, and heart. In her muted Miles-Bearden collaged renderings, White is as bold and brash and confident and causal as a musician, painter, filmmaker stopping us dead in our tracks (as Ntozake Shange reminds us poems should do like a kiss) at such self-assured soliloquies and spirited solos that are ‘just gorgeous.’ Her stilted syntax stutters lead you into the poem slant yet makes you ‘come through the front door.’ In these ‘blue rummage,’ dialectics you marvel at the mastery as White splits the personal wide open for the political (church burnings; confederate flag unlatching; mother-daughter remorse and reckoning) to merge and mingle with your ‘ear to the root’ of her blues: to what matters in her bright and shining ‘hope room’ of a debut."
—Tony Medina, author of
I Am Alfonso Jones and Death, With Occasional Smiling
"In Casual Conversation White attends to an axiomatic ground in the pagefield. She teaches me something about the collaborative dreaming that we can be. I am saying there is something for us here in the complex Quiets of this meditative, sustained, and intimately political work. It is something so vital and so unstoppably generative that I can only think to call it unrest."
—Aracelis Girmay, from the Foreword
"Casual Conversation, true to its title, contains poems of such killing nonchalance both in what they say and in the many unsayables finding space in-between memorable line after memorable line. The way Renia White finds and inhabits space is a stellar pushback against erasure and absence. A timely collection by a timeless poet.”
© BOA Editions, Ltd. 2022