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About the Author
five collections of poetry. She curates an archive of griot
poetics and a related performance series at the Los Angeles Museum of
Contemporary Art. She has received the Motherwell Prize, a Ruth Lilly
Fellowship, a NYFA fellowship, a Schomburg Fellowship, a California Book Award, and
a research fellowship from Harvard University's Woodberry Poetry Room.
She lives in Los Angeles.
I've been spending some time with Harmony Holiday's startling new book of poetry, Maafa, which is both verbally dense and free-flowing, terrifying and moving. Maafa
is a Swahili word for "catastrophe" or "holocaust," and the book's
lyric sequences are preoccupied with questions of how to understand,
represent, and maybe even channel the overwhelming history of violence
against Black lives. From Holiday's vantage, the answers are by no means
simple--at one point, a voice exclaims, "I'm reluctant to write this
shit." The difficulty of doing a catastrophe justice is entwined with
the further tragedy of its potential co-option. The result is a field of
fragments that oscillates between Ancient Egypt and "Fenty / Beauty
ambassador" destabilized but driven, at war with itself and with the
narcotic of easy narratives, and ultimately visionary in its search.
Black music is a recurring subject in
Holiday's writing, and the book calls on a pantheon of sonic ancestors:
Lena Horne, Sun Ra, Al Green, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. They are the points
of contact by which a stolen history might be clawed back: "black
music is the music of forensics // all my dead
friends come to me as songs." Resurfacings of stark violence crash
into quicksilver wordplay: Holiday's language is always restless as it
cascades over itself, mischievous and never quite pin-downable, like the
theme of a jazz chart that is taken up and reinvented in improvisation.
The words run across the page in
staggered spacings, as though written by a musician trying to hold the
rhythm of the sentence in her pocket. Survival, Holiday tells us, is an ongoing struggle, something that is fought for between every word.
--David Wallace, Paris Review