Things I Didn’t Do with This Body

Amanda Gunn

Bedecked in Fenty and Shalimar, Amanda Gunn’s startling debut, Things I Didn’t Do with This Body, invites you to read with all of your senses and gives fresh meaning to the phrase a body of work. Told in six parts, this collection sings in myriad voices and forms—ragged columns rich with syncopated internal rhyme, crisp formal sonnets, and the angular shapes of a stream-of-pill-induced-consciousness. Both tender and emotionally raw, these poems interweave explorations of family and interrogations of history, including an unforgettable sequence that meditates on the life of Harriet Tubman. With Tubman’s portrait perched above her writing desk, Gunn pens poems that migrate from South to North, from elegy to prayer, from borrowed shame to self-acceptance. 

Writing with frankness and honesty, Gunn finds no thought, no memory, too private: a father’s verbal blow, a tense visit to a gynecologist’s table, the longing to be “erased/by a taxi at 50 miles an hour,” and grief at the loss of two former lovers, decades apart. Death is familiar here, yet we find softness, grace, and hope in the culinary lessons learned in warm family kitchens, in the communal laughter of a rehab center’s common room, and in the rewards and pleasures of the fat erotic. With poems as malleable as the skin that “misplaced one hundred nine pounds” and filled it again, Gunn proves that, for the Black body, memory often presents the heaviest weight.

ISBN: 9781556596582

Format: Paperback

About the Author

Amanda Gunn grew up just at the edge of the woods in southern Connecticut with two older brothers. She is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford, as well as a PhD candidate in English at Harvard where she studies poetry, ephemerality, and Black pleasure. Her recent work appears in Poetry, Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal, and Narrative Magazine.

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“Here is another deeply intimate collection of poems, this one a debut from Amanda Gunn. Broken into six parts, one for each of the senses, the voices and forms change drastically from page to page. These poems feel very much in the body, the body of Gunn and the body of the reader, all at once. They also explore and interrogate the history of race in America.” —Book Riot

“By dedication, love, and craft. Amanda Gunn places her poetry in conversation with the farming and culinary skills of her forebears: women who cultivated land, survival, strength, and family bonds.”—Poetry Unbound

“Things I Didn’t Do with this Body tackles serious subjects: race, sexuality, gender, aesthetics, societal and personal depictions and interpretations of the body, and any number of other Big Themes; Gunn handles this repertoire with skill, verve, intelligence and wry humor. And yet what I love most about this collection is the granular details of her memories and descriptions.”—David Starkey, California Review of Books

“These assured poems do not read like a debut, as the collection expertly gathers ideas, objects, and affects of one body to converge histories and agonies, just as [Harriet] Tubman leads a group at Combahee ‘moving as one black body against the wind.’” —Harriet Books, Poetry Foundation

“Flesh, kin, refuge.” —Ms. Magazine

“Things I Didn’t Do with This Body is the kind of book that so deftly dazzles at the level of language, one might miss the devastating current that pumps through its thumping heart. Plumbing the depths of both personal ancestry and the larger legacy of Black suffering and resilience, Gunn reveals—and revels in—the impossibility of interiority outside of history, history outside the slow accretion of distinct individual experiences. . . . Things I Didn’t Do with This Body interrogates the self not to exalt its unique suffering, but to stake out solid ground on a trembling planet.” — Rain Taxi

“Meditating on kitchens and perfume, grief and romance novels, and family and memory, I found Gunn’s debut collection luminous.”—Book Riot