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.