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the black maria

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the black maria

By: Aracelis Girmay

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Regular price $ 16.00

About This Title

Taking its name from the moon’s dark plains, misidentified as seas by early astronomers, the black maria investigates African diasporic histories, the consequences of racism within American culture, and the question of human identity. Central to this project is a desire to recognize the lives of Eritrean refugees who have been made invisible by years of immigration crisis, refugee status, exile, and resulting statelessness. The recipient of a 2015 Whiting Award for Poetry, Girmay’s newest collection elegizes and celebrates life, while wrestling with the notion of seeing beyond: seeing violence, seeing grace, and seeing each other better.

A Publishers Weekly "Best Book of 2016"
An O, The Oprah Magazine 2016 "Gem of the Genre"
Publishers Weekly
2016 #1 in Poetry Top 10

A Publishers Weekly "Most Anticipated Book of Spring 2016"
A Library Journal 2016 Poetry Top Pick
Winner of a 2015 Whiting Award for Poetry

"[Girmay's] every loss—she calls them estrangements—is a yearning for connection across time and place; her every fragment is a bulwark against ruin."

O, The Oprah Magazine

"Crowned by an extraordinary long poem interweaving the childhood of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson . . . Aracelis Girmay's third book of poetry looks at the crimes committed against African Americans throughout history and now . . . These poems repeat themselves, reuse lines, feel anxious and scattershot, but there is beauty and imperative witness everywhere here.”

NPR Books

“Girmay, winner of a 2015 Whiting Award, crafts a moving collection of lyrical, image-thick poems that balance on the knife edge separating vulnerability and unapologetic strength. The lives of Eritrean refugees and immigrants serve as the collection’s thematic foundation, though Girmay also thoughtfully dissects and examines blights of America’s current sociopolitical climate, particularly police brutality and the murders of such young black women and men as Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell . . . Girmay effortlessly slips between collective history and personal memory, tackling the subject of black pain without victimizing herself or exploiting the voices of the marginalized.”

Publishers Weekly, *Starred*

“Whiting Award winner Girmay recalls the larger African diaspora as she commemorates more than 20,000 people who have died sailing from North Africa to Europe in a bid for a better life . . . Using bold, sharply lyric language, she addresses the drowned as ‘you,’ encircling them in community and giving them a humanity and individuality death statistics belie. VERDICT: Beautiful, brilliant, and palpably angry; an important book all readers can appreciate.”

Library Journal, *Starred*

“Lunar maria, dark, basaltic plains on the moon’s surface, take their name from the Latin word for seas, identified as such by mistaken astronomers. This fascinating confusion fuels Girmay’s third poetry collection, which co-opts the sailing-obsessed tales of Odysseus, adopts African slave Abram Gannibal, ancestor of renowned Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, and testifies on behalf of the wrongfully accused Black Panther George Jackson, among many others. . . . astoundingly effective, [this] bright, ambitious work deserves several rereadings. A self-described ‘inheritor of Eritrean, Puerto Rican, and African American traditions,’ Girmay is a dazzling, wildly dynamic poet.”


“Aracelis Girmay’s new poetry collection, the black maria—a haunting, blistering, vital examination of the African diaspora from 15th-century slave ships to Neil deGrasse Tyson—is a book of memories and seas . . . One cannot help but be reminded of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric . . . maybe this ‘John Henryism’ is the memory Girmay brings out as she traverses the African continent, from the Congo under the Belgians to present-day Asmara, and back in time to Luam and Abram when black children were being abducted and sold as gifts. More than any other question, the black maria forces us to ask ourselves if anything has truly changed since then.” 

Chicago Review of Books

"[Girmay’s] project seems to be our deep and ongoing subjectivity, our vulnerability to history, to one another, to desire, and to the belief in something large and lasting that we might belong to. There’s empathy, play, and fearlessness here, and both formal and emotional range. The beauty of these poems is always married to a deep, implacable pang. Their consolation is always rooted in the unifying force of remembered loss.”

—2015 Whiting Award Selection Committee

"In Aracelis Girmay we have a poet who collects, polishes, and shares stories with such brilliant invention, tenderness, and intellectual liveliness that it is understandable that we think of her as the blessed curator of our collective histories. There is in her art the vulnerability of one who lives inside of the stories that she gathers in this remarkable collection. Her poems set off alarms even as they transform the world she inhabits, showing us, in the process, exactly what she asks of Romare Bearden’s art: ‘…how not to // assign all blackness near the sea / a captivity.’ This is one of the many sweet contradictions in the black maria, which ‘is a black flag / wounding the pastoral.’ I am deeply thankful that we have a poet of her unique and singular talent writing today."

—Kwame Dawes

“There is a saying in Spanish, ‘Cada cabeza es un mundo,’ which translates ‘every mind is a universe unto itself.’ And Girmay’s world, universe, opens new ways of seeing the simplest things and giving them voice. Everything contains some clue of another self, body or kindred spirit. Like an archaeologist, she digs deeply finding herself in every living thing, even in the inanimate. Her magic is poetry at its best.”

—National Books Critics Circle

© BOA Editions, Ltd. 2016