Hands Washing Water

Chris Abani

Chris Abani’s fourth poetry collection, Hands Washing Water, is a mischievous book of displacement, exile, ancestry, and subversive humor. The central section, “Buffalo Women,” is a Civil War correspondence between lovers that plays on our assumptions about war, gender, morality, and politics. Abani’s writing is ruthless, boldly engages with trauma, and is filled with surprising twists and turns.

ISBN: 9781556592478

Format: Paperback

About the Author

Chris Abani is an acclaimed novelist and poet. His most recent books are The Secret History of Las Vegas, The Face: Cartography of the Void, and Sanctificum. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the PEN/Hemingway Award, an Edgar Award, a USA Artists Fellowship, the PEN Beyond Margins Award, a Prince Claus Award, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and a Lannan Literary Fellowship, among many honors. Born in Nigeria, he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and …

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“In his fourth volume, Abani explores place and humor, exile and freedom, with poems of experience and imagination. At the book’s center is a series of epistolary poems, letters between two lovers during the Civil War. Though these are set in the 1860’s, their imagery might reflect current conflicts as they consider morality, politics, and gender: ‘There is something malevolent brewing / in our very souls. A thing so heinous / that should we wish to return from it, we could not / devise a path home.’ In others, Abani uses humor with an often sardonic wit. In ‘Coleman,’ the narrator refers to a rumor that saxophonist Ornette Coleman was voluntarily castrated to improve his playing: ‘If Coleman had lived in the South, / when black men garnished trees / he would have got his operation for free-see?’ With an abundance of music and language, Abani’s poems examine injustice and liberation from it: ‘Even after the wounds have healed, / I scratch around the phantom scab, avoiding / what lies beneath.’ Some might argue that Abani enters the wound with a boldness that avoids nothing. Highly recommended.” —Library Journal

Hands Washing Water is a great collection of poetry, one that can be enjoyed every time it’s read. The Copper Canyon publication is a nice size and weight and travels well in a purse or pocket.” —PoeticDiversity.org

“Abani’s luminous language commands attention… ” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Abani is at his best not when he’s thinking through the problems of then, but when he’s dreaming about the pleasures of right now… Abani makes radiant images.” —Chicago Tribune

“What shines through… is Abani’s reverence for the human spirit.” —Poetry Flash

“Abani’s poems are all muscle, they leap and stretch across the globe, back and forth in time… ” —MultiCultural Review

“These poems teach that nothing buried is dead; they breathe in the moment between Question and Answer, between Place and Displacement, and know, as one poem ends, that the moment is fire. Pliant and uncompromising, intellectual and organic, these brilliant poems are made of fire. I was enlightened by the flame and consumed by it.” —Terrance Hayes

“Abani compresses space, time, language, matter, history, and consciousness. From suffering to desire, from war to love. Each one a hinge toward enlightenment. Each one a tender mirror that turns into liquid sunlight in your hands.” —Juan Felipe Herrera