A vivid and varied collection that addresses family loyalties, dysfunction, violence, and differences, Hurrah’s Nest is White’s imaginative and emotionally honest exploration of growing up the second oldest, first daughter of seven siblings. Childhood experiences are looked at with rawness, sensitivity, and crafted with precision: be it the cutting of her dreadlocks, mother’s abortion, drug trafficking, or her sister’s developmental disability, the language is tender and startling. Hurrah’s Nest—from the confusion of our lives—asks us to make meaning and good from what we’ve bargained and haven’t bargained for.
cover art by Debby Sou Vai Keng, ink on rice paper, from the series “Days and Nights”
In Arisa White’s Hurrah’s Nest, be struck by its narrative revelation. But be attentive also to the author’s poetry-making: the expansive language and formal richness which enclose Jamar, Ibert, Jackie, Niesey, Kayana, and Risa. Tercets, couplets, surprising line breaks, assonances, and consonances abound. And always the promise of “Trust me, / you’ll soon know.” But then the persistence of mystery, i.e., “the subterfuge of her carapace.” From Coney Island to Staten Island to the Grand Canyon, the poet moves us through the poems of this vibrant collection.
Arisa White’s poems allow us to bear witness alongside her to the sound and vision of a family desperately searching for itself inside its wounds, afflictions and brief triumphs. It is a requiem for her loved ones, “polished until it’s opal.” So polished that it’s not hard to see our own faces, our own families speaking back to us through each unflinching mirror that she holds up to herself and her kin in the guise of poetry. A dynamic debut for a voice unafraid to “tread the shit that mothers this ground.”
Every once in a great while, a poet with an immediately recognizable voice appears. Arisa White is such a poet. Although you might first notice the often-astonishing verbal fireworks in these poems, it’s the syntax that is their real muscle. Endlessly inventive, the sentences flex and swivel, leap and contract, pushing and probing until they reveal the fierce and impassioned consciousness that underlies them. White writes about the injury of childhood with an uncanny authority born of a weird marriage of extreme sensitivity and outrage. The result is poems that are brilliantly imagined and unforgettable.
Intimacy knows no certainty so that when we encounter it in shapely narratives bristling with honesty we feel a gratitude akin to kinship. Arisa White’s passionate and particular poetry and prose present us with opportunities to feel deeply, and to think along with her what she knows about our world. “I hold her like an artery above a river,” what White writes stays written. This book needs reading.
Arisa White’s Hurrah’s Nest is a beautiful, troubling, sad, important book. These poems manage to be unflinchingly autobiographical and real, while also remaining fully and gorgeously poetic. The book is the vital record of a journey through difficult experiences, and I feel very privileged and grateful in reading it to be taken along in this poet’s continuing honest search for “a mindful way to love.