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“…a book you’ll constantly come back to for both beauty and guidance.”
2009, RedBone Press
Pub. Date: March 2009
Cover photo: Samiya Bashir
Cover design: Eunice Corbin
Gospel is an ecumenical resistance song in four parts. We enter at the crossroads, tripped up by trickster deity Eshu-Elegba. A chorus of crows, led by Norse god Odin’s raven messengers Hugin & Munin*, guides us into each movement. In this passionate follow-up to 2005’s Lambda Literary Award finalist, Where the Apple Falls, Bashir’s poems challenge truth to stare down the power of fear and paralysis.
“We intended gospel to strike a happy medium for the down-trodden,” said gospel music pioneer Thomas Dorsey. “This music lifted people out of the muck and mire of poverty and loneliness, of being broke, and gave them some kind of hope anyway. Make it anything but good news, it ceases to be gospel.”
The good news is that we are neither alone in our mess, nor alone in our grasp of the tools to heal. In this pull-no-punches collection Bashir lays down a road map, a portable flashlight, and a shaky-legged escort to usher the way toward recovered sight and strength.
Praise for Gospel
“How is it done – / remolding body into / image of body,” writes Samiya Bashir in the poem “Topographic Shifts,” from her latest book, Gospel (RedBone Press, 2009).
The poem describes an amputation performed on a baby girl born with twelve fingers and toes, but these lines make me think, of course, about the pressure so many women feel to alter our bodies: how the “image of [the idealized] body” worries, haunts, maims.
What I love about Bashir’s work is how her poems work against this enforced correcting. Many of her poems thrum with the erotic joy of queer black bodies, and her work celebrates the lived experiences of bodies that resist “remolding.”
Bashir gathers stories and language from a range of cultural locations and weaves them into the imagistic and sonic qualities of the poems. The Norse gods make a dramatic and cacophonous appearance and, in one of her most effective rhetorical moves, Bashir utilizes a Ghanian call and response sequence that both effectively heightens the drama and energy in the poem and then brings it to rest at its conclusion. The poems of Gospel are rife with layered meanings while they immerse the reader in a landscape that is both familiar and reassuring as well as deeply unfamiliar and strange.
Set in the mouths of crows, on the edges of couches and dirty tables, and in the hands of the dispossessed, Bashir’s poems awaken a desire to caress the mundane, hoping your fingers will find divine crumbs of revelation. Bashir’s project, inhabiting the tradition of black gospel music’s straddling contradiction, standing in the sacred and the profane, is timely. In a moment when the question of the relationship between faith and sexuality has been put in the media limelight through the discourse of marriage amendments, this project takes a step back, redefining both sexuality and salvation with a close look at the infinite places and moments when the human body meets despair, pleasure and transcendence.
Gospel music, like its secular cousin the blues, never wallows in pity, but instead seeks to transcend pain and reach glory. Bashir’s book makes the same trip…it’s the word’s original meaning that I think Bashir best exemplifies in this book—good story or message—because Gospel is, at heart, a collection of poems that suggest we are not alone in this mess of a world.
Gospel, like all good preaching, is both deftly reflective and full of rafter-rattling truths. In a voice stamped with her definitive, soul-drenched signature, Samiya Bashir blesses us with a roadmap for the living of our fractured and uprooted lives, forcing us to take an unflinching look at faith and the way it’s defined. This is a grandmama-braiding-the-hair book, a rev-ripping-up-the-pulpit book, a book you’ll constantly come back to for both beauty and guidance.
—Patricia Smith, author of Blood Dazzler
Luminous and deeply shadowed, at times gravely playful, and always intimate, Gospel sings through—and beyond—ancestral and personal terrains simultaneously mysterious and revealed, to achieve a richness that is both exhilarating and sublime. Here are movements that, through rhythm, language, and light, become exactly what the poet envisions: gospel.
—Thomas Glave, author of The Torturer’s Wife
If a volume of poetry can be a page-turner, Gospel is it. An ambitious storyteller, Samiya Bashir has created a four-part volume that grabs you and won’t let go. Her poetry is urgent and feverish, mournful, sexy and healing. The only thing better than reading Bashir’s words, so luscious and ripe you can taste them, is hearing her perform them.
—Linda Villarosa, author of Passing for Black
Samiya Bashir’s Gospel builds a vibrant, ascending hum of wisdom around us, chronicling the life blood at the root of its making. Her poetic vision is limber and sensual, thriving amidst histories, love lessons and traditions at once singular and collective. To say, as she does, “I am not a fool who believes in things which hurt me,” is to be lyrically aware of what sustains her, from mythic messengers to the ever-present legacy of queer black family: poets and kin all. It is to know that understanding survival is work and joy; one must invent bold images and sly rhythms to shape that play. This is just the kind of poet Samiya Bashir is: attentive, passionate, artful. With each line, her Gospel urges us to seek a like power in ourselves, and share it.
—Tisa Bryant, author of Unexplained Presence
Samiya is as fine a poet as they come
As the title states Gospel is a song
It is beautifully crafted, touching and wonderful to watch it shake
—Pamela Sneed, author of Kong