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I Wore My Blackest Hair Paperback – November 14, 2017
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“Duan reveals it all with lyrical precision. An accomplished first collection for a wide range of readers.” —Library Journal
“Duan’s talents are many, but she’s an especially powerful poet of scene…Duan sketches these strained emotions with care and courage. This is a book of prejudice and expectations, and how they hurt in various ways…I Wore Blackest Hair is a storm of senses, a chronicle of strained identity and a stance of power.” —The Millions, “Must-Read Poetry”
“Carlina Duan puts very concise words to her complications with family dynamics, beauty standards, expectations that may never be met, and more. It’s rather straightforward and uncomplicated reading, but one with nuanced undertones once the words settle in. Self-identity crises knows no cultural bounds, even if personal experiences differ.” —W Magazine
“This defiant debut collection [is] a bare-knuckled reckoning with diaspora, identity, and, thrillingly, language itself.” —O Magazine
“Carlina Duan’s poems are tender and lined with teeth. In I Wore My Blackest Hair, her speaker navigates diaspora and its incumbent losses—of family, of language, of face—with unflinching care, revealing complex textures and concrete magic. Through it all, she maintains a fierce dedication to the small and sensual. These are poems that live in the world of rain and mint, of mosquito nets, of the heart’s ‘luscious whir.’ Here, praise song and elegy gather to slice plums in the kitchen. A woman faces grief with her eyes wide open and pledges allegiance to the grass. Duan’s is a voice that ‘demand[s] morning’—that sings, and bites, and invites you to soften long enough to be astonished.” —Franny Choi, author of Floating, Brilliant, Gone and Death by Sex Machine
“Carlina Duan’s debut is a necessary text. In this time (which is all times) where the question of who gets to be American shapes the lives of the othered and the dispossessed we need these books that allow us to demand space for all. This is a work deeply engaged with what it means to love family and country. What a gift we have been given to have this thing to love. Heart is an understatement for what this book offers. This is a book I will cherish.” —Nate Marshall, author of Wild Hundreds
About the Author
Carlina Duan hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she earned her BA from the University of Michigan. As a 2016 Fulbright grant recipient, she lived and taught in Malaysia before returning to the States to pursue work as a literary arts educator and freelancer. Her poems have been anthologized and published in Uncommon Core, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Margins, and Berkeley Poetry Review, among others. I Wore My Blackest Hair is her first full-length poetry collection. She is currently an MFA Candidate at Vanderbilt University.
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Top customer reviews
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A great deal of you reading this might be the product of immigrant parents [of which me and my sibling happen to be] had to have wrestled between their cultural upbringing and that of being an American; being older I had a greater struggle.
The fact of the matter is that many of us, or our ancestors, have had to wrestle with the same things as Ms. Duan did in attempting to blend in with the other cultural consciousnesses to become part of what makes America great. As children we had to deal with growing up in a dual cultural environment where we learned about being an American while still keeping true to our cultural heritage intact.
I’m glad the author didn’t shy away from poignantly telling the pains she’d endured in writing her poetry. Although I’m not Chinese, I still felt that the author had spoken not only to both my heart and my mind, but to everyone reading this book regardless of how many generations they can trace their ancestry being here in the U.S.; which is why Ms. Duan has garnered 5 STARS from this author.
daughter, my tongue
my hardest muscle
forced to swallow
a muddy alphabet.
I meet a white-haired woman who
tells me her name means moon.
But I am crescent now, she says.
Soon I will disappear.
a boy plumps his lip on your throat
and asks you to say something dirty
in CHINESE, you flip the sheets
and bite down, tasting trouble
and rage. in the kitchen, alone,
you devour a pickle. your white
classmate sees you. does not.
white men claim you. do not.
you are small, fierce, and evil: with
two palms and a chest. there are
boxes made for you to check.
American. Chinese / American.
your mom calls. she tells you to stop
writing about race. You could get
shot, she says. so you yank your hair
into a knot at the back of your neck.
so you cinch your belt tight
at the waist.
(“YOUR MOM TELLS YOU TO STOP WRITING ABOUT RACE”)
— 3.5 stars —
Loneliness, grief, identity, alienation, illness, love, sex, rage, immigration, culture: the poems in I WORE MY BLACKETS HAIR glide and dance and sprint (and sometimes chomp their way) all over the map, but what they all (or mostly) share in common is an almost stubborn sense of defiance. These are stories about confronting mortality, navigating interpersonal strife, and pushing back against racist microaggressions while holding tight to one’s will to keep on keeping on.
I’ve only recently started to read more poetry; my reticence stems from the fact that I don’t always “get” the stuff. I think I got the gist of each piece, even if some (okay, a fair amount) of the imagery Duan employs went over my head. Even so, it was lovely just the same. And where it wasn’t, it’s because it wasn’t meant to be. Some of my favorites include “MORNING COMES, I AM SHINY WITH IT,” “CALUMET,” “FRACTIONS, 1974,” “MOON PULL,” “I WANT MY BOOKS BACK,” and (so much yes!) “YOUR MOM TELLS YOU TO STOP WRITING ABOUT RACE.”
Incidentally, I did notice a certain pattern of repetition over time that I found a little…distracting, I guess? Certain images pop up time and again – corn and boiled eggs; pink mouths and straining muscles; hair, both head and body – almost to the point of obsession.
There was pain and beauty in some of the poems, but could not get the meaning behind most of them. Maybe I'm not meant to? Poetry is very personal to the writer. If I related more to Carlina's life, would I understand them better? The writing style was different from how I see a lot of poems, very interesting, but might have been one of the factors in making it hard for me to understand.
Despite not getting most of the poems, I still really enjoyed reading this book. I like that it challenged my brain and made me think.
**Disclaimer, I won an ebook copy through a Goodreads giveaway.**