Where is it
Not to have been raped
Capitalism has made ever season
– from “How the dead rose from their graves”
Jasmine Gibson’s debut collection, published by Nightboat Books, Don’t Let Them See Me Like This is an incendiary epistle to a failed world. Each poem accumulates to a rebellious howl as the collection finds the logic of a manifesto on how to deal with the ingrained injustices of race, economics, labor, desire, and disposability. Gibson’s work, at moments reminiscent of Ginsberg, transcends individual identity-politics while putting large institutions in the prosecution box. The use of sex as commodity, race as disposable labor, and materialism as sacred are all shredded and burnt, with exacting, dagger-sharp words.
Several poems are titled “Stop Texting Me.” They act like a chorus or leitmotif between the longer poems, short and direct, much like the texts to and from ex-lovers or bank-marketers that just might interrupt this review—they seem to interrupt every moment of any day—but they create a rhythmic beat that turns pages, giving space and breath for the more epic ideas in the longer poems. The first “Stop Texting Me” concludes:
How insurrection is just the thickening of lining
and we’re either going to abort, bleed, or give birth
Doesn’t that get you wet?
This seeps ideologically into the next page, a four-page poem called “Heavy Metal”:
Who knew that organs could weigh so much and absorb a city’s abuses
Katrina or Flint
repeated events can feel like fate
“are you sure what you put into your body isn’t killing you”
“this is a personal issue”
Lines like “Banks get wet at the idea of millions of bodies breaking” and “It’s expensive to be this poor” drive home the truth, viscerally and memorably. These too-big-to-fail corporations, institutions, laws, and systems are treated as lusty and greedy humans, as they should be. After all, they are composed of people like you and me.
Gibson weaves the personal with the political and philosophical. Michel Foucault, B. Spinoza, T.S. Elliot, Homer, and Karl Marx are all mixed seamlessly into poems with cheating lovers, bad bosses, good whiskey, and money worries. There are also notable anecdotal observations on the concepts of North and South, sex and love, desire and possession.
Don’t Let Them See Me Like This can feel like sitting in an ill-lit bar with a total stranger and having the best, most honest, no holds barred conversation that takes no prisoners, has no ticking clock and is a bottomless well. Gibson captures this metaphor, initiates it, and serves it spectacularly. This is not an easy task to accomplish: to open a discussion which you hope will never end.
In “Atlantic,” some stanzas raise the political stakes:
Muttering something about diasporas
Muttering something about the flimsiness of white supremacy
But not when it’s attached to lust or condemnation
While others raise the personal stakes, bringing the reader closer:
Because I already know the question I wanted to ask
I wanted to touch you a little bit longer
And that is all we had to lose
Concluding with a thought-provoking punch:
Waiting to break over our heads
Have you ever felt anything more hateful
Don’t Let Them See Me Like This is a primal roar, a lover’s caress, a necessary political manifesto offering zero hope. No diet or light or zero or rocks in this Molotov cocktail. Just straight up, double-poured, heart-burning whiskey, and don’t get comfortable on that stool.
“Hollow Delta” ends the collection with:
If Black Lives Matter, that means the destruction of America.
The entirety. That vibrates deep down into the core of the earth, to emerge and destroy Europe and the imaginings of it.
I’m the angel knocking on yr door
To let disease in
The place that I fit in doesn’t exist
Until I destroy it.
Perhaps there is no place for hope in the current world. Perhaps the old must be completely destroyed to build a new, which might be a form of hope for the youthful. Perhaps anarchism is needed for transition, especially if art must be a call to arms. Perhaps like Obama, I’m just a sucker for Hope, clinging to the capital H. Yet politically I’m a conscientious objector to any violence, even poetic justice. I’m an abstainer and support the final line from “Primitive Accumulation”: “Tell me when it hurts, I’ll keep going.” Please do, because we are listening.