Black Bell

Copper Canyon. Apr. 2024. 136p. ISBN 9781556597008. pap. $22. POETRY
In the early-mid 1800s, enslaved people in the United States were often kept from running away by an infernal contraption of bells and iron horns attached to their necks and rising high above their heads. This device sits at the heart of this ambitious new work from poet/librarian Rollins (Library of Small Catastrophes), which reveals how sound and silence, violence and denial of personhood are woven into the Black experience, “Black bell is the space inside her / Hollowed. Hallowed. Halo,” still reverberating today. As if to emphasize the experience of bearing the bells, several poems in this collection suggest physicality by offering instruction for performance; others illustrate creating boxes to show how to build not just a poem but a self, referencing Gerard Manley Hopkins’s notion of inscape, the inner architecture of things and people. “We build our temples for tomorrow,” said Langston Hughes, quoted in this volume, and throughout there is a sense of connecting (including via sex, as in “Your hand on my music maker”) and going forward, even into space. Yet history still weighs (“Which way is home from death?”), as does the need for resistance (“Inside the wall of her cheek / was a sliver of violence / only she could trust”).
VERDICT Complex and intriguing, this work will attract readers of cutting-edge poetry.
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