Anastacia-Renée is an award-winning writer, educator, interdisciplinary artist, TEDx speaker, 2020 Arc Fellow (4Culture), Jack Straw Curator, podcaster, and served as Seattle’s Civic Poet. Her fascinating new book of poetry is called “Side Notes from the Archivist.”
As the title implies, the book is a historical document that provides insight into five decades of American history. The book provides “side notes” or personal impressions as a Black, queer feminist experiencing life in her own skin as national and local historical moments unfold around her.
The book is separated into five sections with titles like ‘Retroflect’ and ‘Retroblood.’
Beginning with her coming-of-age poetry about growing up Muslim in Philadelphia in the 1970s and ’80s to the soundtrack of disco queen Donna Summer, her poems explore the role of popular culture, religion and the political wave of the moment in the formation of identity.
At times, the poems are heartbreaking for the strangeness of being a young black girl “at life’s mercy.”
Here is what she writes, for example, in “episode (0).”
“in this episode of the black girl (which will not air), where
the black girl conjures up her dead baby & the dead baby
conjures up the dead womb & the dead womb conjures up
its womb’s lineage & the lineage tells the girl her baby has
joined the sea, that dead black babies all start out as black
girls & all black girls who are black girl babies start out as
we just find this too far-fetched. even if fantasy or sci-fi we can’t
She deals head-on with the cognitive dissonance of knowing the leaders of your city actually decided to illegally bomb your neighborhood with your own tax dollars in “1985 (1),” a news story I didn’t hear about until years later.
“& you almost choked on your own
memories of the helicopter dropping
bombs over africa
burnt hair in the middle
of your philly street”
The culmination of many of the poems in this collection is “The Black Woman as an Altar.”
“write a letter to womb call it magical call it home call it
hers call it god (but hide this letter in case the government
decides to step in)”
In “Black Marsha (P) Johnson,” Anastacia-Renée pays homage to Marsha P. Johnson, the transgender activist who rose to prominence in New York City after 1969’s Stonewall uprising, and died in 1992 under mysterious circumstances.
i gathered you as
my table talk
& some of the
tried to pick you
apart & i know
you would say
pay it no mind”
The poem “episode (24)” brings insight.
“at the black girl’s job, she overheard coworker a.
tell coworker b. that she heard ‘kale is the new
vegetable’ & black girl thought to herself, there
ain’t nothing new about kale or collards or
mustards or soil underneath a black girl’s
This collection of experimental poetry can be read at one’s leisure. Interestingly, her poems grapple with homophobia and navigating queer relationships, the white gaze and the exploitation of blackness, the AIDS crisis, and is an important work of literature that will be cherished by generations to come.
Laura Moreno is a contributing writer to the Bay Area Reporter.
This story is made possible with support from Comcast Corporation.