What Sparks Poetry

Books We’ve Loved

What Sparks Poetry is a serialized feature in which we invite poets to explore experiences and ideas that spark new poems.

In Books We’ve Loved, we’ve asked our editorial board members and select guest editors to reflect on a book that has been particularly meaningful to them in the last year, with the intention of creating a list of book recommendations for our valued readers.

Yona Harvey on Lauren Russell’s Descent

“I would like to invoke Audre Lorde’s term ‘biomythography,’ Lauren Russell writes in Descent’s introduction, “and puncture its seams, pull out its hem, and make ‘biomythology’ from the swaying threads.” And just like that, Russell puts us on notice about her second poetry collection’s unconventional provenance. She raises the stakes and shows her mettle. The crafting of the tale is as much about what Lorde has given Russell as it is about what Russell does with the inherited. The result is a poetic, hybrid tour de force that delivers not only the assembled narrative, but accounts of creating the book itself: “I came to this project in search of Peggy, but it is my life, too, my family’s life, I find expunged from the record.” Descent, after all, is Russell’s deep exploration of ancestry and historical omission. But, of course, her astute rewriting of the wreckage, makes the book so much more than that. Russell’s great-great grandfather, Robert Wallace Hubert, was a Captain in the Confederate Army. By transcribing Hubert’s diary and employing other research methods, Russell resurrects Peggy Hubert, her great-great grandmother, a formerly erased and voiceless black woman. Through the vehicle of Russell’s “swaying threads,” Peggy Hubert has the last word.

Writing Prompt

Lauren Russell delves into her family history in Descent. Write a hybrid poem, including prose and verse, about a family story or myth.

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Yona Harvey

Yona Harvey

Yona Harvey is the author of Hemming the Water, winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award in poetry and the Lucille Clifton Legacy Award in poetry from St. Mary’s College of Maryland.  She contributed to Marvel’s World of Wakanda, a companion series to the bestselling Black Panther comic, and co-wrote Marvel’s Black Panther and The Crew