Samiya Bashir | FIELD THEORIES | Nightboat Books
These poems span lyric, narrative, dramatic, and multi-media experience, engaging their containers while pushing against their constraints
Field Theories wends its way through quantum mechanics, chicken wings and Newports, love and a shoulder’s chill, melding blackbody theory (idealized perfect absorption, as opposed to the whitebody’s idealized reflection) with real live Black bodies.
Albert Murray said, “the second law of thermodynamics ain’t nothing but the blues.” So what is the blue of how we treat each other, ourselves, of what this world does to us, of what we do to this shared world? Woven through experimental lyrics is a heroic crown of sonnets that wonders about love and intent, identity and hybridity, and how we embody these interstices and for what reasons and to what ends.
In her third collection, Bashir (Gospel) displays an intriguingly multivalent approach to the objectivities and subjectivities of black experience reflected in her multimedia collaborations. A series of recurring “coronagraphs” become a tunnel through which the figures of John Henry and his wife Polly Ann speak, forming a sonnet crown that brings new life to an American myth. They are interspersed with four sections structured on the laws of thermodynamics and bearing voices of denizens trapped in a capitalist matrix, “An anthropocene/ of wannabe hepcats” who “pay// defense department rates/ for a sandwich; unremember// memorable jingles.” Bashir’s experimental visual gestures, such as a bullet-hole riddled prose poem on the law of probability, resonate as bluesy meditations on cosmic entropy’s presence in the irreversible occurrences of American lives. While fans of Kevin Young will appreciate the pop of unexpected end rhymes and a present-tense narrative impulse, those of the more associative Ashberian school will enjoy such playful titles as “Universe as an infant: fatter than expected and kind of lumpy,” which features a private visit with Groucho Marx. Whether depicting the faces of marginalized citizens at late-night truck stops or cross-sectioning “bloodstreaks through musculoskeletal structure,” Bashir positions the slings and arrows of black American life as both empirically observable and available for radical, and movingly layered, interpretations. (Mar.)
"In this electrifying collection, Bashir co-opts the vernacular of thermodynamics to generate clever, ambitious poems: “We call it dark matter because it doesn’t interact with light”; “Blackbody curve”; and, of course, the titular “Field Theories.” Bashir plays with double meanings, unusual narrative structure, and experimental visual arrangements, such as “Law of total probability,” about an office shooting, from which conspicuous circular portions of the text have been removed. In another, “Blackbody radiation,” the text has been scrambled on the page, thrown together with mathematical signs and symbols. The book alternates between these science-inspired, avant-garde pieces and an extended sequence about the legendary John Henry. By pairing this monumental black figure with the terminology of scientific fields that have been defined by whiteness, Bashir creates a jarring, resonant contrast in this substantial gathering. The result is a dynamic, shape-shifting machine of perpetual motion that reveals poignant observance (“Even Jesus let / his baker’s dozen fend / for themselves once”) and verges toward hallucination (“We blow smoke rings and shape them into big beaned cloud gates”). — Diego Báez
"There are pecks here, as units of measure for hidden sweetness. And dag! Dag is here, scatted at Detroit depth. Field Theories is flush with blue notes, swung in the exercise and exorcism of blue devils, the off minor, off spherical acoustics of “baby we won” and “not the father” are folded into the gravity of a unified feel, the beauty and violence of inseparable differences, some impossible someone’s arms. Our tongues are in the pitch black mouth she conjures and records. This is our music.” – FRED MOTEN
During the six months leading up to the release of FIELD THEORIES, the poem(s) of it are being reimagined through a new medium: sound+image+light.
Follow along every month as each mini-short is released in a different city across the country: Portland; Los Angeles; Baltimore; New Orleans; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C. Is that where you'll be? Come through and see!
Then don't miss the full stitching of all six mixes into one intergalactic FIELD THEORY just in time for the New York City release of FIELD THEORIES in its ink-on-tree book form.
Stay tuned for a heads-up on when/where/how to be down!
"Field Theories masterminds the “neverhush,” and each poem makes a spectacular event of artful speech that dances on the ridgeline of this brilliant poets’ history, heart, and intellect. And while she cuts to the quick, all swift-witted and informed, what I admire most is Bashir’s dexterous language, how she aligns our bodies to a vernacular sense of ourselves, knowing that the world is more than empty signs and algorithms, and that we need to ever engineer the widest possible love the world has ever seen." – MAJOR JACKSON
“Samiya Bashir’s FIELD THEORIES is science as only poetry can be. She’s done her research and now she rethinks everything she gets her pen on: the relationship of dark matter to the sun, the possibilities of the heroic crown of sonnets, Keatsian aesthetics, social re- and inter-actions, and language itself. These poems are alive, are woman-truth, are burning darkly. Grab your shades. No: fire up your magnetosphere. This book is “black body radiation,” and you can’t handle it - but you’ve got to.” – EVIE SHOCKLEY
“A lyric scientist at the top of her game, Samiya Bashir explores the emotional and cultural physics of desire, love, loss, family, history, and everyday existence in her new collection Field Theories. These inventive poems move across a range of psychicscapes, recentering black voices and bodies through blackbody theory and quantum mechanics, backyard meditation and bedroom lament. Bashir asks and shows with consummate artistry, what are the deep and hidden laws that divide and connect us?” – JOHN KEENE
“These poems resonate as code rising from caverns of the unexpected. When listening to their seeming irregularity one thinks of Dolphy's work where seeming fracture exists as portal to luminosity.” – WILL ALEXANDER
“To read Samiya Bashir’s poetry is to be pulled up by a force so intense and magnetic as to constitute a new field of action: dark matter and radiation, witness and redaction, and the pendulum of time and history, swinging, swinging. I am reminded of Melvin Tolson’s description of the night on which that legendary steel-driver John Henry was born: 'an ax of lightning split the sky.' This book splits the sky right open, swinging like a melody, swinging like a boxer, swinging on each elemental and freighted word to beat the devil.” – D.A. Powell