Bluest Nude: Poems

Milkweed. Sept. 2022. 112p. ISBN 9781571315427. pap. $16. POETRY
“They are composites of photographs, magazine cut-outs, and the occasional life drawing.” This line is perhaps as instructive as any to the particular character of Codjoe’s first full-length collection of poetry. Not only is she recalling the work of another female artist—an act that proves one of the collection’s essential cores, particularly Black women artists across a collection of mediums—but she speaks to the composite nature of her own collection. Here are brief portraits of women, gazing or being gazed upon, creating art or simply existing, shrouded, or, as the title suggests, naked—literally, figuratively, psychologically. It’s also a work of careful, exquisite precision: it’s no accident that the poem immediately following this reference to “cut-outs” is both a thematic and linguistic continuation: “She wasn’t cut out to be a housewife…/ She wasn’t cut out to be a soccer mom…/ Her hands were cold.” Yet elsewhere, Codjoe captures the unsettled nature of our most emotional worlds: “It was a Saturday or Sunday in November or July.”
VERDICT The collection’s organizing principle can feel a bit injudicious at times, with some poems easily bleeding into the next while others feel like slamming into a wall, but the potency of Codjoe’s language and keenness of her thematic renderings never fails to enthrall. Fiercely intelligent and both emotionally and formally rich.
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