Please make me pretty, I don’t want to die: Poems

Princeton Univ. Sept. 2022. 104p. ISBN 9780691239033. pap. $19.95. POETRY
Following the chapbook Nearness, Gaborone, Botswana-born, New York City–based Mulalu debuts a full-length collection that features a speaker whose inquisitive mind leaps with connections. Tonally and formally, the poems likewise leap, from witty sincerity to frustration to mournfulness, from elegy to renga to delightful haiku. Told in four sections, each aligned with a season, a central preoccupation of the collection seems to be how (and if) people might see themselves and others clearly, amid the accumulated narratives and myths of race, nationality, love, and self (“I want to want myself as much as I want your shadows/ flickering against the walls of this cave, fooling me/ of presences beyond myself”). Mulalu’s standout poems use syntax and a type of linked logic to play successfully and surprisingly with time and narrative. While readers may occasionally lose the thread of connection, the collection’s energy is constant, and some of the poems’ most straightforward moments are the most affecting (“Roots,/ we learn to speak of them. The baobabs do/ not speak of themselves”), as in the fittingly titled “Clarity,” the collection’s moving and powerful final poem.
VERDICT A sharp, playful, and thoughtful work for poetry lovers.
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