Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Angel C. Dye's My Mouth A Constant Prayer

This week, I've been reading and thinking on Angel C. Dye's My Mouth A Constant Prayer (Backbone Press, 2023). I purchased the book a little while back but decided to save it, as a treat to myself, until the end of the semester. 

Dye reflects on childhood, assault, jazz, and more. She writes about the cosmos, the pandemic, remote learning, paying bills, and, well, life. She has all these keen observations and good turns of phrases throughout the book. 

In "A Poem for Toni," Dye writes that "She tell me give up that stuff, / them bricks, / them shackles." And then later:
She pluck the rose over my eye,
say, "Fly,"

Place my best thing in my palm
and the hand there is mine (10-11).
In that poem, various stanzas begin with what she does to or for the speaker: "She gather me," "She paint me," "She wax wings for me," "She tell me," "She see me," and, as noted, "She pluck." 

It occurred to me as I re-read and thought about the poem that I don't encounter nearly enough poems like that -- this Black woman doing these multiple things for a Black woman. Not just a description of  but a chronicling of the doings. 

In another poem, "Lightkeeping," Dye mentions her two-year-old nephew who will be told, "one day soon / that he is perfect to us, spark of joy and love / lighting our world," but then eventually, "he will grow into a black man / who others find blinding" (17). 

Ok, and check this out. Dye has a poem entitled, "Rent is Due on the 1st, not the 21st." She writes about "stretching $7 worth of Taco Bell for two days." Later, she mentions "craving a savings account that stays put instead of / seeping into survival funds." 


Listen: when's the last time you came across a poet writing about financial struggle? No shade, but with the success of awards and lofty professorships over the last decades, few established Black poets are writing (truthfully) about money woes like that, like how Dye does. 

My students sometimes complain that contemporary poets seem out-of-touch with local daily struggles. Now, I'll point to a poem like Dye's "Rent is Due" to offer a counterpoint. You gotta catch poets early in their careers. To be fair though, despite all the accolades, the vast majority of Black poets are in fact struggling like that. Their poetry doesn't reach enough of us as much. 

I'm glad to now be following along on where Dye is taking us.

Toward the end of the book, in a poem entitled "Molting," Dye writes that "Millennial angst is never just occasional depression; it's a high-functioning state of being." Then, as she closes, she notes how "heartbreak / doesn't hurt me the same way" (27). More than just a comment about growth, it's a comment about becoming stronger.

Later still, she has this poem "Soft Life" that opens with the observation that "Black Girl Breakdown / is different from Regular Breakdown." A Black girl or woman must contend with the notion of being a "Strong Black Woman when you want to be weak / willowy."  

You know, it seems like yesterday when I was writing and blogging about Dye's book Breathe, but no, that was the end of 2021. And now here we are at the end of 2023, and I am writing about another De book, this one My Mouth A Constant Prayer. Hopefully, she'll keep doing this--giving us more poems with more reasons to read, think, slow down, and reconsider. 


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