Mint Book Club: August

Mint Book Club has auspicious reads that should appeal to all this August


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JOEL KEMEGUE, Evergreen mint editor

Poetry is hard to get into. I know AP Lit set me back with 19th-century poems. So when people tell me they aren’t into poetry, I understand. I understand that I have to throw 15 books at you and constantly repeat my favorite lines until the rhythm and imagery is more vivid in your head than the face of your mother.

One thing to remember is that sometimes you’ll leave a poem and you won’t understand it. That’s okay, in fact, it’s one of my favorite things about poetry. It does take time to get poetry, but more often than not the time is worth it.

Before getting into this, I’d recommend reading How To Read A Poem from if you have trouble getting into poetry. It can be an acquired taste sometimes but poems are like artsy puzzles in that half the fun is figuring them out.

“Citizen Illegal” by Jose Olivarez

This book has a special place in my heart because it was what got me into poetry. While Olivarez was writing about Mexican identity, growing up as the child of immigrants, mental health and other topics were interesting, what grabbed me was how his poems were easier to read than the old poems I was used to, yet just as deep.

Poems like (citizen) (illegal) aren’t like what your English teacher made you read and annotate. While they are much easier to read, they’re still complex and kick your heart in the way only a good poem can. There’s more to see when you reread it, but you don’t have to puzzle yourself going through it the first time, which is why I think this book is great for beginners.

I’d recommend checking out the Mexican Heaven poems to get a taste of Olivarez’s style, and then checking out the rest of the book to get some good modern poetry.

“Incendiary Art” by Patricia Smith

I talked about Incendiary Art back in February for Mint Book Club, and I honestly cannot talk about it enough. Incendiary Art is fantastic, and it was never not relevant, but the poems do hit even harder now with the growing BLM protests.

There is a whole section of this book where each poem is inspired by a different police report of a Black person killed by cops. Smith has a recurring choose your own adventure poem where each one is a scenario where something happened to stop Emmett Till’s death. Plus there’s a way Patricia Smith writes that forces you to feel her words. Every poem makes you feel something and feel it hard, whether it’s pride, horror or sadness.

Here’s 10-Year-Old Shot Three Times, but She’s Fine, which I think illustrates what I mean.

“Magical Negro” by Morgan Parker

I really just had to read the first poem to Magical Negro, I Feel Most Colored When I Am Thrown Against A Sharp White Background: An Elegy, to get hooked. Through these poems, Morgan Parker describes the feelings of being a Black woman, and every poem is like a fresh, raw look into who she is and what she feels.

Magical Negro definitely steps more into the realm of poetry that’s hard to understand at first. I didn’t understand most of the poems in this book when I read them the first time, or for a couple of times after that. But these poems are incredibly interesting. When you start to get it a little bit, you want to get it more.

Here’s The High Priestess of Soul’s Sunday Morning Visit to the Wall of Respect, one of my favorite poems in the book.