Literal Hotties will focus on reviews and recommendations of titles by womxn of colour, both fiction and non-fiction.
I seldom read poetry, mostly because I think I’m too much of a dumb bitch to fully understand what is going on. But there are the occasional geniuses I find impossible to resist, their command of words forming such a vivid and enthralling image in my mind that I am left breathless by the last page. Before now, the last times I remember feeling left like this was after finishing Warsan Shire’s TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH, Elizabeth Acevedo’s POET X and Caleb Femi’s POOR.
Today, I bring you the bad bitch that is Rachel Long, and the glittering, stunning and painful collection that is MY DARLING FROM THE LIONS. If you don’t know, get to know.
Simply, Long presents readers with a plethora of beautifully told poems, each one filled to the brim with a detailed and visceral story that is both extremely familiar and distant in our own memories. There are stories of belonging, of love, of maturity and sexual awakening and of colourism and the diaspora experience. The collection is multifaceted and overwhelming in that sweet way that makes you unwilling to come up for air.
“Often, it made me think about the person my own mother was before having my sister and I, before she immigrated and left behind an entire life and identity that had been her own in her home country.”
As a reader, I was taken beyond just one singular experience, and given the courtesy of witnessing cross generational stories from mother to daughter; highlighting their differences in perception and understanding of the world. Often, it made me think about the person my own mother was before having my sister and I, before she immigrated and left behind an entire life and identity that had been her own in her home country.
Long puts these thoughts into words and forms an entire story that I have barely ever been able to conceptualise in my own head. I fully can’t believe how talented she is, and it’s a blinding reminder of how mediocre the rest of the world is.
MY DARLING FROM THE LIONS also brings us short stories from someone else’s perspective entirely, experterly placed in areas that do not throw you as a reader. They are written in such a way that you are almost unwilling to blink, the sheer thought of missing something unfathomable. Big Oprah with Meghan and Harry vibes.
“Equally, there are moments of belonging; when our speaker describes having her hair braided by Black women, it is a moment where she does not feel she has muted herself or shrunk herself down.”
There are stories of the first time the narrator begins to question what her body is capable of, or what purpose it serves in terms of sexuality. Whilst these themes are relatable for many readers, it is an experience that is mostly applicable to young Black women. From the moment she is socialised into groups of other children it is abundantly clear how differently they view her compared to her younger sister, both being children of a biracial couple. Her sister has hair that is deemed ‘nicer’ or ‘softer’ due its proximity to whiteness, whereas our speaker is described in less positive terms, and though her young mind does not fully understand the negative connotations it instills a level of damage that echoes throughout the rest of the collection.
If you choose violence like I do, then you’ll feel like slapping the kids who made these comments while reading it.
Equally, there are moments of belonging; when our speaker describes having her hair braided by Black women, it is a moment where she does not feel she has muted herself or shrunk herself down. There are tender moments that are between our speaker and her mother, which would also be laced with memories of pain, having spent the entire day trapped between her mother’s legs as she worked a comb through their hair.
“I particularly love the passages that had me remembering exactly the moment I became palpably aware of how boys perceived me, and how, embarrassingly, I wanted to be perceived by them.”
For me, personally, because I overly romanticise the nostalgia of my adolescence, I particularly love the passages that explore this; the passages that had me remembering exactly the moment I became palpably aware of how boys perceived me, and how, embarrassingly, I wanted to be perceived by them. How I’d huddle together with my friends in the girls bathroom and we’d take turns doing each other’s eyeliner, feeling as if we’d shed an older and uglier skin and were renewed with our makeup.
These are the moments that stuck with me the most, because despite not being aware of it at the time, it was a pinnacle moment in how I shifted as a person. In the poem ‘Sandwiches’, Long learns that her friend places slices of bread in her bra, and the idea is so inherently genius I was actually hurt that I never learned this at school… I was ugly as hell and had braces and glasses. I needed all the help I could get.
Within these memories, there is also a use of vernacular so specific to readers who grew up in these areas; it’s so rare for me to come across it, nd be reminded of how I have lived and grown up, that I had to stop and reread out of excitement.
This collection has truly spun me in the best way possible. I was clutching the pages at two am rereading my favourite parts, garnering something new every time.
No poem is the same, and yet with each one comes a familiarity that allows the reader to piece them together to make it one fully formed story. It flits back and forth in a timeline, which is never disorienting or confusing, and in fact seems to be the only way that this collection feels right to read in.
Run Rachel Long her cheques and her awards!