Audio Spotlight | A Place For Poetry

A brief, quietly gorgeous audiobook of Yalie Saweda Kamara's poetry reveals new meaning with every listen, and a groundbreaking and deeply passionate poetry collection from Mikeas Sánchez celebrates language and feminine power.


Kamara, Yalie Saweda. Besaydoo: Poems. Milkweed Editions. Jan. 2024. 2:13 hrs. ISBN 9781571315977. $14.99. POETRY

Kamara performs the audio of her Jake Adam York Prize–winning first full-length poetry collection (after the chapbook A Brief Biography of My Name) with elegance and restraint. Born in Oakland, CA, to a Sierra Leonean family, Kamara pens a love letter to her hometown, “the bucktoothed city that made you wish you never wore braces.” She celebrates Oakland not as the media often portrays it, as a place of danger, but as a nexus of family and friends, good food, sunny warmth, and joy. The poet explores the nuances of language and words, illuminating the impact of casually misspelling a name and the hurt that comes from consistently being misheard and misread. With playful fluency, Kamara creates a seamless tapestry, reveling in the rhythms of different languages as she threads her poems with Sierra Leonean Krio, English, and French. The collection’s title is a newly coined word synthesized from “be safe, dude,” spoken quickly. This gentle benediction, which Kamara musically repeats and layers, embodies the care that people extend to their families and their communities. VERDICT This brief, quietly gorgeous audiobook reveals new meaning with every listen. A radiant addition to any poetry collection.—Sarah Hashimoto

Sánchez, Mikeas. How To Be a Good Savage and Other Poems. Milkweed Editions. (Seedbank). Jan. 2024. tr. from Zoque & Spanish by Wendy Call & Shook. 3:49 hrs. ISBN 9781571315960. $16.99. POETRY

Indigenous Zoque poet, translator, and activist Sánchez’s vital English-language debut features translations of some of her previously published Zoque and Spanish poems. The collection presents each poem first in Zoque, then in Spanish, then, for the first time, in English, thanks to translators Call and Shook. In their illuminating foreword, the translators note that out of an estimated 110,000 Zoque people, who are primarily located in the Mexican state of Chiapas, only 15,000 speak Copainalá, the dialect spoken by Sánchez and her family. Zoque is an endangered language, and its presence here is a gift. Sánchez’s poems speak of enslavement and resistance, of environmental activism, community, and, above all, the power of women’s voices: “I am woman and I celebrate every vein/ where I guard my ancestors’ secrets/ every Zoque man’s word in my mouth/ every Zoque woman’s wisdom in my spit.” The audio offers listeners incredible access to the Zoque language, narrated by Sánchez herself. Some might want to listen and read at the same time, if only to see the orthography of a language without an established written tradition. VERDICT A groundbreaking and deeply passionate poetry collection that celebrates language and feminine power. Not to be missed.—Sarah Hashimoto

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