woke up no light: poems

Books on Tape. Apr. 2024. 1:33 hrs. ISBN 9780593869451. $28.50. POETRY
The 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Mottley’s (Nightcrawling) debut poetry collection traverses histories, both individual and collective, as it explores the violence-ridden journey from girlhood to sisterhood, daughterhood, and motherhood—the many faces and bodies of being a Black woman in an often dangerous world. Divided into four sections—girlhood, neighborhood, falsehood, and womanhood—the book dwells on topics as wide-ranging as birthday lists, the winter of 2020, fried chicken and watermelon, reparations, and fake IDs. An accomplished performer, Mottley narrates her own work with a near palpable fury and grief. She infuses “Elijah McClain’s Last Words” with gentleness and sorrow for a young man whose thoughts run like a stream, “I’m an introvert // I’m just different // I don’t eat meat.” When speaking to the strength it takes for Black women to keep the sadness, exhaustion, and pain at bay, she announces, “so if I let you see a tear drip / if I let you see my teeth chatter / know you are witnessing a miracle.”
VERDICT Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, this brief collection of poems speaks volumes and merits much relistening. Poetry is meant to be heard, and Mottley’s voice resonates.
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