book reviews: when my brother was an aztec and the souls of black folk

when my brother was an aztec

this is one of the first books of poetry i’ve read cover to cover. diaz covers topics of her life intimately, in ways that made me super uncomfortable. which maybe was her intention. or maybe not. from the way she writes, i’m guessing she actually doesn’t care. i think the poems that i liked the most in the book were ones that i could “get”; simpler in structure, with content that i… well, not that i could relate to, but that i could see clearly. the two biggest themes in the book are life on the reservation and her brother’s drug addiction (meth?). she paints devastating imagery of the her brother’s face, body, body movement, and the impact of his addition on her and her parents. my favorite poems in the book were:

the souls of black folk

this is one of those books that i should have read in high school. du bois (doo boyz) essentially does an ethnography of the south in the decades following the emancipation proclamation. the book chapters seem to flow from big picture systems and structures and get increasingly individual and specific, ending with a few chapters about specific people and then songs. on that journey, he definitely makes his way through community-scale observations. i feel like the language got more beautiful towards the end of hte book, but maybe that’s just because i understood his writing style better by then. or maybe because it was more specific and less about systems?

my biggest takeaway: it’s unreal how little has actually changed. the book is infuriatingly timeless. there are stories and vignettes he walks through in the book that could essentially be today. on so many topics (cultural appropriation, leaving home to get an education and then feeling alien at home, music, family life, and economics), so little is familiar from when he was writing in 1903 as today. this book has really made me question the conventional knowledge of what we should be doing today in terms of movement work.

but also, his talented 10th idea (that it’s the responsibility of the “top” 10% of black folks to bring the rest of the race along) is pretty fucked and apparent throughout. though it doesn’t actually seem in this book like he leans on that too much. but his theory of change does seem off.

oh, and the edition of the book i read (borrowed from ceasar mcdowell) has a few bars of music at the beginning of each chapter. each is what du bois calls a “sorrow song,” and he explains his interest in them in the last chapter of the book. haunting and beautiful, they’re often songs infused with heartbreak, survival, and sadness. hopeful, but fully cognizant of the terrible reality in which they are sung.

words / writing / post-processing
397w / 12min / 6min