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The Black Maria

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  314 ratings  ·  38 reviews
Praise for Aracelis Girmay:

"[Girmay's] every loss—she calls them estrangements—is a yearning for connection across time and place; her every fragment is a bulwark against ruin." — O, The Oprah Magazine

Taking its name from the moon's dark plains, misidentified as seas by early astronomers, the black maria investigates African diasporic histories, the consequences of racism within—
Paperback, 120 pages
Published April 12th 2016 by BOA Editions Ltd.
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Average rating 4.37  · 
Rating details
 ·  314 ratings  ·  38 reviews

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Nov 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
oh my goodness... heart of my heart
i love this woman so much!
this collection is filled with death, sadness, grief, the sea, race, history, family, love, motherhood, joy. how to talk about grief without perpetuating it and tr to express joy is something that girmay talks about which is a big part of this collection and something we all try to do.
so many sections and her descriptions/personification astonish me and is why I love her so much. i go back to her work often and this is no diffe
Apr 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Important, gorgeous poems that manage to uplift and devastate the reader simultaneously. Teeth and Kingdom Anamalia were beautiful collections, and I thought the latter was a particular achievement, but The Black Maria feels magnum-opus-like -- except now I expect Girmay will write something in a few years' time that will knock me flat yet again.
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Girmay is a gifted poet. In these poems, she looks back at her ancestral country, Eritrea and the diaspora that was the result of the slave trade. Despite the painful topic, Girmay still manages to keep a sense of beauty amid the terror and tragedy. A significant work.
The sea and death and sorrow, a review promised. Displacement and Eritrean diaspora and a history that includes the history happening now. The first part, elegy, I don't think it would be possible to excerpt without its context, without the interplay of the complete work. It tells us of four women called Luam from different times and places, it tells us of the sea and the dead.

In the second part "The Black Maria" and "Cooley High, Fifth Estrangement" were the poems that winded me. Seeing the nam
Apr 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, newtome2017
Graceful…. Enlightening….Profound
These are the words that came to mind when I finished this dazzling poetry collection whose poems which at times were intimately personal and other times outraged at injustices in the world.
I was immersed in this collection as these poems whispered in my ear, touched my heart, and soothed my spirit.

Words like these had me reflecting on the deeper meaning of the written thoughts:

“if there were angels, they would be flies
who hov/>
Nov 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I don't read a lot of poetry these days but this made me feel like maybe I should change that. Beautiful!
I haven't cried this much over poetry in a long time. Girl knows how to turn a phrase and everything in this is so relevant right now.

my favorites:
all of them, really. but:

"you are going now"
...& your brother
is telling his son now that you
are on your way, he is using
the present-tense to talk of you
though above their heads the kashmiri tree
is already stirring Shiva & fruit

to the sea (any) [all of these, but especially pg 30...]/>/>"you
Jul 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
I struggled deciding how many stars to give this one. 2? 3? 4? The poet is clearly talented, and the themes of racism and violence need to be voiced here and now in America. But this book is overly ambitious. It's really like three books in one. It's dense. And there are some redundancies. And there were times I almost gave up reading because, frankly, I was bored. But the second half was so much more moving than the first, and when I read Part I of the title poem, "The Black Maria,"
Mary Ardery
May 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a book steeped in research and one that seeks to continue necessary work: a spotlight on the injustice of slavery, of men and women and children being forcibly taken from their homes—the effects at the time and also the inherited effects still present today in slaves’ ancestors: “if there are angels, they are flies / who hover over our privacies, / kissing us with mouths / that have kissed / other wounds.” Books like these, that are in explicit conversation with history and other authors ...more
Aug 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2018, poetry, fiction
3.5 stars. In a nutshell, The Black Maria is an elegant exploration of Eritrean diaspora. It focuses on the unintelligible force of the sea and its ruthless swallowing of countless despairing refugees. It is about grief, yearning and, most poignantly, race. I found myself both sorrowful and uplifted throughout, which I believe is the mark of a powerful poet. I think my favourite piece was the one about Neil deGrasse Tyson who, as a child, eagerly points his telescope into the night sky from his ...more
Dec 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Rating: 3.5

Moon says, "Please, god, crown my loneliness with stars." But the star's life is short compared to Moon's. There is always a funeral. Moon is always wearing the veil of the black

Poignant. Macabre. Historical. Symbolic. Reflective.
And most importantly, empathetic.
Jul 11, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: poc-authors, poetry
Poetry collections are too subjective to review! As always, there were some that I connected with deeply. Many others, I did not. But either way, she is a talented poet who does things with words and rhyme that I can't imagine doing.

She mixes some prose with poetry, some that focus on rhyme and rhythm while others focus on a theme across several poems.
Brigid Hogan
May 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
An incredible build upon Girmay's previous collections. Her vibrancy, clarity, and morbid playfullness shine through, but this collection has more of a focus and direction that her earlier works. A remarkable and powerful expression of black womanhood, the beauty and pain of personal/familial history and tradition, and the cyclic patterns of humanity.
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The context given by the poet at the beginning of the book, and at key points in the rest of the book, really enrich the experience. The poems are largely very moving and wonderfully written, but the added context makes each one a whole experience.

My favorite line is from the first The Black Maria poem, "someone who does not love you cannot name you right & even "moon" can't carry the moon."
Dec 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Aracelis at her most powerful. Teeth may always be my favorite book by her, but this collection hits you right in your gut & your heart. It took me awhile to get through this collection if only because I wanted to savor each poem, and sometimes the heavy discussions of grief made me slow down and make sure I didn't miss a single word.
Doralee Brooks
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a really important book, winner of the Whiting Award. It’s one of the best collections I have read in a lifetime of reading, and I think everyone should read it. For a good review, check out the Kenyon Review.
S.A. Crow
Nov 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Loved this collection of poems, the rhythm of her language, the images, the ideas. Each poem was lovely, and deep, and they all came together to build something amazing. I'm looking forward to reading this again after a year or so.
Dec 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
All the stars & the moon to this book
Oct 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I think the best book of poetry I’ve read this year. The sounds, the images, the movements between them, and the history rolled into it all.
Ajibola Tolase
Sep 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
In this book are the lives of people, black people.
In this book are the stories and histories of people. What made them, what killed them and what waits ahead for the living.
Steven Felicelli
Jan 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
reminiscent of Walcott's Omeros
Apr 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult, poetry
3.5 stars
3.5 Stars

eading poetry is a skill and one that I have not used in a while.  I used to read more in my teens and twenties and have no valid reason for waiting so long to pick up a book of poetry again.  That’s why I appreciated that a prompt on one of my reading challenges was a collection of poetry published since 2014.  This was a great excuse to seek out new poets and new collections and I enjoyed my experience with The Black Maria, even if I found myself confused by the format. ...more
Mar 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful. A must-read.
Feb 09, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. review forthcoming
Jun 02, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry, 2016, contemporary
More note to self than a review: Girmay follows up her successful collection, Kingdom Animalia with this collection of cycles of poems (there are two cycles), and though I can see her grappling with the enormity & size of the task (black history, slavery, racism in the US, and myriad deaths symbolized by the black empty sea of the moon called "black maria" as well as various other seas). A melding of locations, times, and themes that gives her concerns with African Americans a historical continuity. ...more
Nov 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
"there was a water song that we sang
when we were going to fetch river from the river,
it was filled with water sounds
& pebbles. here, in the after-wind, with the other girls,
we trade words like special things.
one girl tells me "mai" was her sister's name,
the word for "flower." she has been saving
this one for a special trade. I understand
& am quiet awhile, respecting, then give
her my word "mai," for "water,"
& another girl tells me
Dec 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"The Black Maria" is a powerful and gorgeously written collection of poems from a unique and talented voice. The title refers to what were ostensibly seas that were viewed from Earth on the surface of the moon but were actually dense craters. Throughout the collection of poems, they become beautiful symbols of so much more.
Standouts from this collection include
"Fourth Estrangement, With a Petition For the Reunion of Jonathan & George Jackson"
Poem V from the "Black Maria" cycle
Nov 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommended to Grace by: American Women Poets
Shelves: for-class
This was a very intelligent, focused collection, and beautifully written. Favorite poems in this book are "Look! In other poems you are.," "The Woodlice, Fourth Estrangement," "First Estrangement," "Cooley High, Fifth Estrangement," "Second Estrangement, "Third Estrangement," and parts II. and III. of what I believe is titled "The Black Maria." Like several of my classmates, I preferred the second half of this collection to the first.
Dec 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I got to hear Aracelis Girmay read at the University of Arizona's Poetry Center in 2016, and she read from The Black Maria. You couldn't ask for more fire from a kind, generous-hearted person. But her prose really sparkles on the page as much as it does in person ... don't hesitate to dive in, even if you prefer a live presentation.
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Aracelis Girmay is an American poet. Her poems trace the connections of transformation and loss across cities and bodies.

In 2011 Girmay was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. A Cave Canem Fellow and an Acentos board member, she led youth and community writing workshops.