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.
“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
“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