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Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  1,168 ratings  ·  168 reviews
A stunning poetry debut: this meditation on the black female figure through time introduces us to a brave and penetrating new voice.

Robin Coste Lewis's electrifying collection is a triptych that begins and ends with lyric poems meditating on the roles that desire and race play in the construction of the self. In the center of the collection is the title poem, "Voyage of th
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Hardcover, 142 pages
Published September 29th 2015 by Knopf
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Roxane
Sep 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I have ever read. It is outstanding, an achievement. Good on Knopf for publishing this book and so beautifully.The poems are so moving, powerful, unapologetically black. On the Road to Sri Bhuvaneshwari is outstanding. Also, Frame. And Lure. I mean, my god. This is a book of poetry. I will write an actual review soon for somewhere, I am still processing. Sable of Venus is an absolutely essential read.
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Fantastic, absolutely deserving of the National Book Award this past year, an exploration of identity from internal and external perspectives. The title poem, a long one in sections composed entirely of names of works of art containing a black female figure, is astounding in how it morphs and changes just by arranging the words of others.
Jason
Oct 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
" All is suffering is a bad modernist translation.
What the Buddha really said is: It's all a mixed bag. Shit
is complicated. Everything's fucked up. Everything's gorgeous. Even
Death contains pleasure - six feet below understanding."
- from "Pleasure & Understanding," one of my favorite poems in this astonishing collection that explores and tests our cultural definitions of beauty; history and those who would like to sanitize or erase it; and the power, joy, and pain of personal memory. The titl
...more
Anna Springer
Oct 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best collections of poetry written in English, period. Lyricism, conceptual praxis, spiritual theory, socio-political double-twists, and aesthetics criticism blend elegantly in this collection. The body of the goddess, the steppe, the poetic I/ We, and history is no longer fractured - it's sutured. This body hurts and it also feels good, and neither experience of being alive is more important - it's not a series about transcendence, but about descending - walking into the demo ...more
Shaun
Oct 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Four and one-half (4 1/2) stars; not four (4) stars.

While I personally favored Terrance Hayes' smart collection of poetry in "How to be Drawn" this book by Robin Coste Lewis tenderly traces her journey of self-discovery toward racial identity and enlightenment that is both thrilling, erudite and tragic. Written in three parts with Part Two containing her intellectual "Voyage" examining the female black figure throughout the history of Western Art. Part One and Part Three make elegant "bookends"
...more
Eunice Moral
Jan 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
3.5!

A powerful read!
Ari
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2016
IQ "Knowing
taught me-quickly-to spell community
more honestly: l-o-n-e-l-y.
During Arts and Crafts, when Miss Larson allowed

the scissors out, I'd sneak a pair, then cut
my hair to stop me from growing too long" (121) Art & Craft
^Raise your head if you've felt like this before when mocked for being a bookworm, being the only one in accelerated learning classes, etc.

I have never taken a poetry course, we covered the basics my freshman year in high school but I barely remember what we learned. Thus I
...more
Danny Knestaut
Apr 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Reading this book is like walking through a museum. The poems are exquisite, well-crafted, and impressive. But they are also a bit sterile, like museum pieces. I understand the context in which these poems are presented to me, but it feels like a theme in an exhibit. This book is a brilliant show of post-modern poetry, but there is a distance between the poems and the reader, a velvet rope that separates the reader from experience and relegates one to appreciation.
Neil R. Coulter
Nov 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
I didn't love this collection, but I certainly affirm that Robin Coste Lewis is very skillful at communicating the pain she's lived through and sees all around her. This is most acute in her poem "Lure," which describes everything perfectly by denying all of it. Lewis's poems aren't all bleak hopelessness by any means, but that undercurrent is strong throughout the book. One of my favorite poems in the collection, "From: To:," about a moment of triumph for black servicemen in WWII, is followed i ...more
Michaela Raschilla
Apr 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Now I don't want you to look at the one star missing here and think that this wasn't a mind mindbogglingly good book. It was crazy good. In fact it was so good, I had trouble understanding it. I think the problem here was that I took out a library copy and therefor could not highlight, underline, and otherwise scribble manically in the margins. Is this always necessary with poetry? No, but I have noticed that it tends to be necessary with the good stuff.

I never would think that the judges of the
...more
Craig Werner
Amazing first book of poetry. It would be amazing at any point in a career. The title poem, which forms the central panel of a triptych of historical memory, consists solely of the titles and descriptions of works of art involving black women; I'm not going to try to summarize the rules Lewis established for herself, but that captures the idea. It could have felt gimmicky, but it doesn't. The montage makes a complicated set of points about the interaction of representation and experience, the po ...more
Abby
Nov 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
“Art hurts. Art urges voyages—” (Gwendolyn Brooks)

Oh, so many chills! A beautiful, heart-rending, inventive book of poems. (Those breathtaking line breaks!) Highly, highly recommended. The best poems I’ve read this year. With many thanks to Wei for giving us a copy.

The titular collection (a survey of the history of art featuring black women) is amazing, but also, my favorite poems in the book:
“On the Road to Sri Bhuvaneshwari”
“From: To:”
“Let Me Live in a House by the Side of the Road and Be a Fr
...more
Jane
Jan 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What an amazing and challenging book...using art catalogues and ships' manifests, the central part of the book lays open the bodies of black women in "found" language manipulated, punctuated, spaced and arranged by the author to overwhelming effect. Lyric poems that feel utterly personal bookend this central section and are equally although more personally heart-wrenching. It's a collection that needs to be read many times. Its power accrues. I am awed that this is Lewis's first collection. How ...more
David
Jan 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"Is there a street that can anticipate
our tenderness? A corner or curb
that stands still waiting for me?

Where is the road - gilded and broad -
which can foresee our vast inability

not to love?"
Katie Karnehm-Esh
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Gorgeous, thought-provoking, surprising.
André Habet
Read most of the second section's extended collage section out loud in the cemetery today, and I felt the power of what Lewis was doing here throughout.
Rita
Feb 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
First and last sections are stunning. "Lure" is especially devastating. I appreciate the long collage section for its ambitious scope, but it was a bit of a struggle to get through.
Jenny Forrester
May 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
No mistaking this for anything but the experience of being Sable Venus. Cried and cried and cried. Poet gratitude.
Adam
Feb 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What an ambitious and astonishing collection.

Highlights: The Wilde Woman of Aiken, The Mothers, Dog Talk, Summer, Voyage of the Sable Venus, Frame, Lure, Second Line, Félicité.
Athena Lathos
Jul 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Rating and reviewing Voyage of the Sable Venus is a challenging task for me. Robin Coste Lewis is an incredible poet, but I found the large middle section of this book somewhat lacking in its execution.

The poems at the beginning and end of the book were absolutely stunning. In fact, "The Road to Sri Bhuvameshwari" is one of the best and most aching poems I have read in years. I can't get over it, and it has lingered in my brain for a long time now. But the collage pieces did not often hold the
...more
David
Sep 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Poetry can lift us from ourselves, take the ego and absorb it. Voyage of The Sable Venus transforms what we know about poetry, breathlessly removing us from our perch; it satiates our desire to feel, our demand for secondary consciousness. If ever there were a poet who understands that words matter by virtue of their generosity, by their very power to transcend what we think we know, it is surely Robin Coste Lewis. This is poetry redefined; a glance to magical verse betwixt the pages of a treasu ...more
Debs
Nov 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
4.5 stars. Although I wasn't particularly engaged by the titular poem--having less to do with the subject matter or the effort and more to do with my inability to connect to the style--there are poems in this collection that have drilled their way into my core and I can't stop thinking about certain stanzas and images. To me, this is the mark of the most successful poetry; phrases and images that find something inside the reader and squeeze, demanding to be heard and turned over like a smooth pe ...more
Hannah Notess
Feb 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Wow. I read this almost straight through in two days, which rarely happens with a book of poems. An incredibly powerful and versatile poet takes on the history of aesthetics as applied to the black female body.

The title catalog/found poem was wonderful, but I also really loved the more narrative pieces as well. "On the Road to Sri Bhuvaneshwari" was one of my favorites, I read it multiple times. I loved also that it was longer than the typical poetry collection. So often I find myself wanting m
...more
 wade
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A wonderfully varied and vastly creative collection of poetry that won the National Book Award. The title poem is a long narrative composed entirely of entrees of descriptions of art at museums and catalogs (everywhere) across the world. What a unique undertaking - making descriptions of art into art. The unifying subject is that all the art deals with a black female. I also really enjoyed the poems at the end of the collection which are more personal about the author's life over the years. A t ...more
Marcos
May 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
A harrowing, dizzying read- and a collection of brutal poetry that I have not encountered in years since finishing my BA English degree. Ms. Lewis writes of sexuality, racism, the fetishization of black women, and the black experience. Audacious and ambitious, filled with desire and self-loathing, to loathing itself and acceptance with ambivalence, it is a graceful and beautiful work of art.
Julie
Sep 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
I am glad her editor had her surround Voyage with the other poems. Voyage itself was not what I had imagined when I heard of it. It felt like being slowly and deliberately buried. It was powerful and odd, and I found it brilliant.
I adored On The Road to Sri Bhuvaneshwari so much that I keep re-reading it. My other favorites were Second Line, Lure, Summer, and Frame.
Jo
Jan 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
I don't know a lot about poetry but parts of this collection were incredibly powerful. The title poem about the black female figure in western art was more interesting to me in concept then in execution.
Vicky
Feb 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Vicky by: Poetry Foundation Book Club (Mar. 2016)
Shelves: book-club, poetry
I will come back with an update to this review after March 18th.

NOTE: FIVE STARS FOR THE EPIC "ON THE ROAD TO SRI BHUVANESHWARI" POEM ALONE

but that middle catalog section..............................
>.>
<.<
...more
Jennifer
Sep 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
The poems "Felicite" and "From: To:" are powerful as hell!
Aidan Owen
Jan 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, poc-writers, poetry, race
Brilliant, haunting, beautiful.
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Robin Coste Lewis, the winner of the National Book Award for Voyage of the Sable Venus, is the poet laureate of Los Angeles. She is writer-in-residence at the University of Southern California, as well as a Cave Canem fellow and a fellow of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities. She received her BA from Hampshire College, her MFA in poetry from New York University, an MTS in Sanskrit and co ...more

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“.'All is suffering' is a bad modernist translation. What the Buddha really said is: It's all a mixed bag. Shit is complicated. Everything's fucked up. Everything's gorgeous.” 11 likes
“At some point, I realized that museums and libraries (in what I imagine must have been either a hard-won gesture of goodwill, or in order not to appear irrelevant) had removed many nineteenth-century historically specific markers--such as slave, colored, and Negro--from their titles or archives, and replaced these words instead with the sanitized, but perhaps equally vapid, African-American. In order to replace this historical erasure of slavery (however well intended), I re-erased the postmodern African-American, then changed those titles back. That is, I re-corrected the corrected horror in order to allow that original worry to stand. My intent was to explore and record not only the history of human thought, but also how normative and complicit artists, curators, and art institutions have been in participating in--if not creating--this history.” 0 likes
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