Today’s post is on Tuesday instead of Monday because I am participating in a pre-publication book tour of poet Arisa White’s Who’s Your Daddy through Poetic Book Tours.
Here is a synopsis of the book
Who’s Your Daddy is a lyrical genre-bending coming-of-age tale featuring a young, queer, black Guyanese American woman who, while seeking to define her own place in the world, negotiates an estranged relationship with her father.
After my review, I will share advance praise for the book, as well as information about the author, Arisa White. Then there is a list of blog tour links, including interviews and guest posts so you can learn more about Arisa White.
This hybrid is specifically memoir, but Who’s Your Daddy? shapes itself as a prose (and lyric) poem collection. I don’t know why we don’t have more books available to us that are a long narrative told in poetry. They are rare and yet so compelling, perhaps because poem series elicit more complex mixtures of emotions from readers than linear traditional memoirs do.
What attracted me to the book before I read it was the feeling of connection (my memoir-in-progress has to do with my father’s estranged relationship with his father) and the ping of curiosity about White’s life as a “young, queer, black Guyanese[-] American woman” since I fit only one of those descriptives.
From the first page I was captivated by the story. In the first section, the writing is succinct with a smattering of specifics that bring White’s childhood to life. She imagines or fills in what she can’t remember—the ride to the hospital for her birth, what life was like in the first few years. She grows up without her father, Gerald, a married man. She does experience love from her mother and her uncles, but life is still difficult. The book skips ahead to White at the time of her post-graduate studies. She has difficulties with relationships, but manages to forge one with Mondayway. White feels there is something missing. Halfway through the book, she realizes she has been running from something.
Deep breaths open my
tight chest, and I feel how running has taken more than
given. I rub my heart with the heel of my palm, and my
heart stays voicing,
Find your father
Find what’s missing there
Find what is enough
Find yourself whole
Forgive and be forgiven
In the second half of the story, White tries to get to know her father. He has been deported back to Guyana from the U.S. for participation in a crime. White and Mondayway visit Guyana to spend time with Gerald, but also to get to know White’s roots. Her movement toward acceptance and growth is a bit back and forth which feels realistic and painful. Again, powerful words that mark another epiphany are set apart from the prose poem form:
I got her back,
who I abandoned
in his going.
she is enough.
Arisa is enough. She doesn’t need her fantasy of a father to fulfill her identity.
There is so much I could write about this book, but I just want to give you an idea of why you would want to read it. The prose poems are short. The organization is helpful, as are the brief Guyanese proverbs and quotes from thinkers. I found references to even an old standby like the Bible and Shakespeare or Eliot (the pearls that are his eyes from The Tempest or The Waste Land—I wasn’t sure which one she was referencing, maybe both). But much of the book is punctuated with more contemporary thinking, such as the context of toxic masculinity. Gerald is a tragic example of that phenomenon. In fact, near the end of the book I realized that I can’t stand Gerald. I was willing to try to get to know him “while” Arisa did, but when he continued to do harm to her through his selfishness and misogyny, I could no longer try to tolerate him.
The book can be read in two sittings, but you will want to mark passages and go back to them. You will be thinking about Arisa White’s story for days afterward.
Those of you who know I have been working on my memoir for 1,000 years might be interested to hear that I found White’s format super inspiring. I’m trying out writing my memoir in prose poems instead of traditional prose. In some ways, I feel that I am going back to the beginning of my project a bit, when I was writing in “scraps,” but it’s a world away from what I’ve done before, too.
-Patricia Smith, Incendiary ArtArisa White channels the ear of Zora Neal Hurston, the tongue of Toni Cade Bambara, and the eye of Alice Walker in the wondrous Who’s Your Daddy. She channels Guyanese proverbs, Shango dreams, games of hide and seek, and memories of an absentee father to shape the spiritual condition. What she makes is “a maze that bobs and weaves a new style whenever there’s a demand to love.” What she gives us are archives, allegories, and wholly new songs.
-Terrance Hayes, American Sonnets for My Past and Future AssassinsSomewhere nearing its end, Arisa White says of Who’s Your Daddy, it’s “a portrait of absence and presence, a story, a tale, told in patchwork fashion…” This exactly says what Who’s Your Daddy is, though it doesn’t say all it takes to do justice to the mythic paradox an absent parent guarantees a child, young or grown, or what it takes to live with and undergo such birthright. There’s not only a father’s absence and presence, there’s a mother who says you raise your daughters, and love your sons, there are stepfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, a grandmother, brothers, lovers, all of whom leave their marks and give and take love. Surrounding the whole book hovers the questions do I forgive him, and is forgiveness possible? This beautifully, honestly conceived genius of a book shook me to the core.
-Dara Wier, You Good ThingHow does a lyric memoir—a queered-up autobiographical hybrid of prose and poetry—become a real page-turner? Well, for one thing, its speaker uses her authenticity and open-heartedness to generate a rib-cracking amount of courage to look for, find, and emotionally confront a missing Guyanese father who ends up being the “unhello” of a “nevermind.” What’s so moving about this discovery is the speaker’s lyric response. It’s a shrug that’s a song that’s the speaker telling it experimentally-straight about how it feels to have “arms free of fathers.” It’s a story that’s a song that’s the speaker’s “gangster swagger” that beautifully tells of how to confront one’s relation to “a culture of deadbeats, wannabes, has-beens, what-ifs, [and] can’t-shows” without succumbing to despair. One really wants to quote Plath’s line here about “eat[ing] men like air.” Oh, I love the courage of this book. The whole “black heart” and love-strength of it. And you will too!
-Adrian Blevins, Appalachians Run AmokA lyric anthem for the fatherless, for seekers of the places and people that made us, for the artists ready to unearth and reshape their own stories. I gulped this exquisite manual like precious medicine, a spell that made me more myself.
-Melissa Febos, Abandon MeCollaborative, interactive, this work of poetry and memoir offers life as a recurring question. Who’s Your Daddy is a study of how power and loss work on the intimate scales of daily living and queer loving. Read this with compassion for your own defining questions and the raw texture they have left upon your heart.
-Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Dub: Finding Ceremony
Who’s Your Daddy is striking and gorgeous. “I’m born into a bracket of boys,” White writes, framing a portrait of fatherhood that shutters and aches; it enthralls. I wanted to lap it up. A reflection on family that permeates via knitted prose with deep verse—my favorite kind. White’s work is sonic, lyric, and important. I can’t wait for y’all to read this book.
-Emerson Whitney, Heaven
Blog Tour Schedule:
Oct. 12: Diary of an Eccentric (Guest Post)
Oct. 21: Review Tales by Jeyran Main (Review)
Nov. 20: CelticLady’s Reviews (Interview)
Nov. 23: Unconventional Quirky Bibliophile (Review)
Jan. 19: Allonge and emzi_reads (Review)
Feb. 23: Luanne Castle’s Writer Site (Review)
March 12: Anthony Avina Blog (Guest Post)
36 responses to “Poetic Book Tours: Review of Arisa White’s Who’s Your Daddy”
It sounds very interesting.
A very good book and so unique!
It sounds very interesting, Luanne. Thanks!
A wonderful read!
I revisited Karen Hesse’s Newbery Award winning “verse novel,” “Out of the Dust,” when preparing to write about the Great Depression. Yes, creative and compelling way to approach a narrative.
That is my favorite children’s book!!!
Wonderful review, Luanne. Yet another title to add to my endless reading wish list.
I’ve added Who’s Your Daddy to my own endless reading list!
Wonderful review of a groundbreaking story!
This is such a great inspiration for you to use for your memoir!! Tell it your way with what you love to write – great!!
Thank you! It’s so easy to write a review when you love the book. And, yes, so inspiring for me. I’ve done a little work (very little) almost every day, and I just had 3 poems/micros from the “memoir” picked up by a really lovely online mag, so I feel as if I am headed in (maybe) the right direction. I think I should stop calling it a memoir and name it something else!
A super review, Luanne.Thank you for sharing.
I like the concept of prose poem memoir. I will definitely look for this book.🐦
Some of her poems are not prose poems, and what I began to notice is that she puts some of her most important lines about her own development in traditional lines, rather than prose poems.
She has an impressive background! Nice review and great way to participate in her journey! I can’t wait to read your prose poems related to your father and his father.
A really impressive background, and the book matched!
I’m not sure if what I am doing are prose poems or micros, but maybe there is a really fine line between them hah.
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This was a stunning memoir, and I’m so glad it inspired you to tinker with your own.
Serena, it really was. I love what she did with it–I couldn’t put it down. And, yes, SO inspiring to me.
An excellent review, Luanne!
Thank you so much, Clare! I hope you are staying safe!
My pleasure, Luanne. Yes, we are all safe here, thank you. The number of people with Covid in our area is going down quickly and most of us older adults have had our first vaccine dose and are waiting for the second one in the next few weeks. I hope you and your family are also keeping well and safe. xoxo
Well, that is positive news that is very welcome to me! The gardener and I have also had our first doses, so I feel a bit of relief.
Oh, wonderful news!
Excellent review,Luanne! The book sounds very compelling; I’ve added it to my reading list. Patricia Smith’s praise caught my eye because she’s the only writer I’ve ever sent a fan note to. After reading (and listening to!) “Now He’s an Etching,” a few months back, I was so blown away, I tracked down her contact information and emailed her. (And she responded.) https://poets.org/poem/now-hes-etching It was wonderful to hear that White’s approach has inspired you to approach your own memoir in a different way.
Thank you, Liz. Wow, what a really cool anecdote! I love that she responded! And thank you for the poem link. Have a great weekend.
Intriguing review and I’ve added her book to the growing list of books to order 😉 And how wonderful that White’s book has inspired you to try a different form for your memoir!
I think this form is so much better for my story. For one thing I don’t have to make up mindless crap to create a consistent narrative line. So unnecessary to this story. What is so funny is that I am back to how I started at the beginning except that I am transforming the material more. I couldn’t be doing this without a reader like you, Marie.
Definitely read White’s book!!! It might remind you a bit of that course we took together.
Funny how sometimes we wind up back where we started 😉
LOL! I guess I had a lot to learn in the meantime.
The collection sounds divine, and I’m soooooo happy it has affirmed what you might want to do with your memoir. Having read Kin Types, I can so see your knocking that out of the park.
Divine is a good word for this book!
And thanks for your confidence in me (hahaha) as I just don’t know if I can pull it off. I feel like my covered wagon is trudging westward or somesuch.
I’m going to buy “Home is Where You Queer Your Heart” for my gay son moving to LA.
And “Who’s Your Daddy” for his transgender friend, staying home.
Wonderful news! Yeah, Arisa’s book is wonderful.
That’s so neat to hear.