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Voyage of the Sable Venus

and Other Poems

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.



A stunning poetry debut: this meditation on the black female figure throughout 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 considering the roles desire and race play in the construction of the self. The central panel is the title poem, “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” a riveting narrative made up entirely of titles of artworks from ancient times to the present—titles that feature or in some way comment on the black female figure in Western art. Bracketed by Lewis’s autobiographical poems, “Voyage” is a tender and shocking study of the fragmentary mysteries of stereotype, as it juxtaposes our names for things with what we actually see and know. Offering a new understanding of biography and the self, this collection questions just where, historically, do ideas about the black female figure truly begin—five hundred years ago, five thousand, or even longer? And what role has art played in this ancient, often heinous story? From the “Young Black Female Carrying / a Perfume Vase” to a “Little Brown Girl / Girl Standing in a Tree / First Day of Voluntary / School Integration,” this poet adores her culture and the beauty to be found within it. Yet she is also a cultural critic alert to the nuances of race and desire and how they define us all, including herself, as she explores her own sometimes painful history. Lewis’s book is a thrilling aesthetic anthem to the complexity of race—a full embrace of its pleasure and horror, in equal parts.

From the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Oct 19, 2015 – Lewis's astonishing debut full-length collection works as a triptych, with the title poem's central panel flanked by autobiographical lyric poems that investigate intersections of blackness and gender, geography, alienation, and the formation of the self. The speakers of these poems adopt a variety of tones, ranging from sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek to gut-wrenchingly sincere. While the book's first and third sections shine with uncompromising and brilliantly constructed poems, it is the eponymous second section that is truly extraordinary: a narrative sequence composed entirely of titles, catalogues, and exhibition descriptions of Western art objects in which a black female figure is present. Through her recombination of found texts, Lewis denotes an assimilation of black femininity in the preexisting rhetoric of white-patriarchal depictions of the black female form in art and the museum setting. The procedure she employs is intentionally violent, parsing source material as it pertains to images of the black female form in a way that mimics the valuation of the black female body. As Lewis reworks fragments contextually rooted in ahistorical depictions of blackness, her meditations on the real origins of blackness are made visible. The result is a book that is formally polished, emotionally raw, and wholly exquisite.
Voyage of the Sable Venus
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  • $13.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Poetry
  • Published: Sep 29, 2015
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 176 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.5 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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