I didn't want to write a poem that said "blackness
is," because we know better than anyone
that we are not one or ten or ten thousand things
Not one poem
-from "Today's News"
Originally published in 1990 to widespread acclaim, The Venus Hottentot introduces Elizabeth Alexander's vital poetic voice, distinguished even in this remarkable first book by its examination of history, gender, and race with an uncommon clarity and music. These poems range from personal memory to cultural history to human personae: John Coltrane, Frida Kahlo, Nelson Mandela, and "The Venus Hottentot," a nineteenth-century African woman who was made into a carnival sideshow exhibit.
In language as vibrant within traditional forms as it is within improvisational lyrics, the poems in The Venus Hottentot demonstrate why Alexander is among our most dazzling and important contemporary poets and cultural critics.