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Skin, Inc.: Identity Repair Poems Hardcover – August 31, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555975674
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555975678
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #515,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Ellis's highly anticipated second collection has a bit of everything: poems in an array of forms--a concrete poem meditating on the English vowels and money, an abecedarian list of "Black Writing" terminology, a photo essay shot at the James Brown memorial at Harlem's Apollo Theatre; prose poems; meditations on New Yorker covers; and lots more. Throughout, Ellis (The Maverick Room) makes a complicated, often contradictory critique of race relations in America; he has as many self-corrections to put into practice, "sucker-punching I," as he does punches aimed at others: "One of these badass/ glorious days,/ the signs and negative sounds/ that worked against us/ will all begin their tenures/ of service.../ It has already begun with/ ÿNigger' and ÿBitch.' " While much of his work would be right at home on a spoken-word stage--Ellis is an extraordinary reader of his poems--he feels deeply uneasy about the pigeonholing of black poetry, "as if the craft of our/ inherited calling had only/ two camps of Blackness,/ ÿAcademic' and ÿSpoken Word.' " This big book concludes with an amazing 35-page biography/elegy for Michael Jackson and the era through which he lived, and which he deeply affected. No doubt, this is a major book.
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From Booklist

Ellis positions himself between the two primary schools of contemporary poetry (not only African American poetry, although the divide is especially noticeable there), which he defines as “Academic” and “Spoken Word” in his poem “No Easy Trick.” The “trick” is to bridge those apparent opposites, which he does superlatively in his second full collection. The cadence of speech is audible on the page, in his “uneven ribs of verse” that worry “text to talk and talk to text.” In the searing tradition of Ai, Ellis takes on the thorny questions of race and culture, and never mincing words about the damage racism has done: “If punctuation / were a punch, / I’d publish line breaks of fists.” But he sees poets as “identity repair-people, / faders of trick moves, trope-a-dopes / and okee dokes, / laying our dice down like ( ) like we love us.” A photographer as well as a poet, Ellis includes a sequence that combines the two art forms in homage to James Brown; another sequence explores the complex image and tragic reality of Michael Jackson’s life. Ellis’s distinctive voice offers a new model for written orature, and his audience steadily widens. --Patricia Monaghan

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dan Roeder on May 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
"Skin, Inc.," the newest collection of poetry from Thomas Sayers Ellis, is a truly remarkable, thrilling collection of what the author would call "Identity Repair" case studies. Ellis not only uses his poems to create vibrant images, but navigates the reader through the book with an film director's cinematic grace and nuance. Ellis interweaves his focus between himself, the nation at large and case studies of influential black luminaries throughout pop culture history (including James Brown, Michael Jackson and President Obama) and dissects his subjects in such a way that they become universal figures. His moments of insight are genuinely unexpected and exciting to the reader to the point where, if the reader isn't careful, one might end up dog-earring each page.
One such dog-ear rampage may occur throughout "Spike Lee at Harvard," where Ellis details his days as shipping clerk at Grolier Book Store, "employed in a corner/slim enough for a book." He peppers these anecdotes with beautiful imagery ("Ai, interrupting/the white typeface/of American detachment./ A single profile of personas/like a caesura/in buttermilk") and comments on racial boundaries and poetic clarity.
More still may appear throughout "Mr. Dynamite Splits," his marriage of photo-journalism and poetry in homage to James Brown, or in "Gone Pop," his dissection of Michael Jackson and the Jackson family. Ellis takes these larger than life figures and focuses in on all of the things that make them human; their families, their failings. One of his particularly poignant moments comes when waxing on Jermaine Jackson's departure from his brother's group: "sometimes it takes a legal battle/to be loved.
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By rosens1 on March 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
SKIN INC. REVIEW

Thomas Sayers' Skin Inc. is a blistering meditation on identity, both personal and collective. The conceptualization of the self and the way African Americans are seen by society are major concerns in this collection. Sayers' almost combative tone lends weight to his sentiments in lines such as, "These genres these borders these borders these false distinctions are where we stay at, in freedoms way." The clarity and power of his voice make this collection a lot more fun than your average political discussion. Sayers gracefully treads the line between bombastic and tasteful, never fully given to obtuseness or ranting. "In life," he writes, "they clutch their purses because they want to think you've stolen something." This sort of line encapsulates Sayers' ability to articulate his disgust with both the fact of race and the way it affects his people. He is at once upset with the lines drawn by race, "shut up about sameness, shut up about difference," and inexorably wrapped up in his own, "Blackness freedoms to defend me." This paradox makes for an interesting, if slightly grating read, only due to the narrowness of subject matter. Sayers occasionally gives us a break from his tirades in pieces such as, "Spike Lee at Harvard," which is an engrossing autobiographical snippet. All told, Sayers has produced a passionate, caustic, but slightly overwhelming collection that definitely deserves an audience.
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By maryquinn10 on March 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Skin, Inc. by Thomas Sayers Ellis is a collection of "identity repair poems." In his book, Ellis ponders the constructs of racial identity from the perspective of an African American man. This book could seem limited to an audience of African American readers, however, as his dedication page reads, Ellis' book is "For you." The book is centered on black identity, but lends itself to a wide range of readers by tying the black experience into the world at large. Ellis also incorporates familiar black pop culture references and uses famous black icons, such as Michael Jackson and James Brown, to illustrate the varying representations of black identity that have been cast into the world. Skin, Inc. is laden with visual goodies such as photographs taken by Ellis himself and some poems comprised of large, bold lettering that spans several pages. The poems can, at times, be exhaustingly experimental, but they are unfailingly exciting--the kind to be re-read and rediscovered. However, there are also poems that instantly strike the reader and resonate deeply, such as "The Identity Repairman," which reflects on the labels and perceived stages of blackness (African, slave, colored, African American, etc.) and what they mean to the author. In reading Ellis' poems on identity from the black perspective, we are able to look beneath the surface of labels and step into the shoes of one who lives under the umbrella of this identity category.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was privileged to see the poet in person and loved, loved, loved his reading and explanations of the Michael Jackson piece. Great stuff!!!!
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