Winner of the 2020 Cave Canem Northwestern University Press Poetry Prize
At once interested in the cyclical nature of domestic dysfunction and what we do when secrets of buried harm come to light, Blessed Are the Peacemakers asks what it means to make peace in the wake of intrafamilial violence and child sexual assault. These poems explore the ways the truth is often hidden behind layers of bleach and shame, and the ways we fail survivors by dismissing their stories and tolerating their abusers.
Filled with elegies to the people who have been murdered by state violence, racism, and anti-Blackness in the United States, Blessed Are the Peacemakers interrogates the lengths and limitations of grace. Brionne Janae examines what it means to survive—particularly as a Black girl, woman, queer person, or human—and uses self-portraiture to explore how familial and communal trauma plagues our mental health. How do we survive the grief of the past and present without becoming numb to or consumed by it? How do we remember, despite our pain, to enjoy our bodies and our lives while we still have them?
I. EVEN AFTER SUMMER SWIMMING LESSONS CONFESSION BABY GIRL AIRFIELD AS YOU RECALL THE END OF THEIR MARRIAGE THE WORD SALVATION NEED LET HE WHO IS WITHOUT ATONEMENT BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS II. FOR THE SURVIVORS OF THE UN-NUMBERED DEAD ON SURVIVAL ALTERNATIVE FACTS SO LOVED PIGS AT THE DOOR AND A RIOT BENEATH THE SKIN THE BLACKSMITH AS GOD ALTERNATIVE FACTS SCHADENFREUDE ELEGY FOR JUDGE SHEILA ABDUS-SALAAM LATE SUMMER PORTRAIT OF DEPRESSION ADDRESSING THE GIRL CHILD MOMMA SELF PORTRAIT WITH A FILTER UNDONE SELF PORTRAIT WITH A LINE FROM BLACK PANTHER SELF PORTRAIT AS OLD TESTAMENT GOD SELF PORTRAIT AS AUTO-PHOBE MOMMA CHILD’S POSE EYE SHADOW AFTER ANGELA DAVIS SELF PORTRAIT WITH HOPE BURIED BUT STILL BREATHING SURVIVAL MO’S HOUSE FISH FRY IN SEARCH OF OUR MOTHERS’ GARDENS OR VOLUNTEER LEMONS SUMMER SCHOOL NAKED PIZZA FRIDAY VOLUNTEER LEMONS NUDE STUDY OF THOMAS E. McKELLER
BRIONNE JANAE is the author of After Jubilee. Their poetry has appeared in Ploughshares, American Poetry Review, the Academy of American Poets Poem‑a‑Day, jubilat, the Rumpus, the Los Angeles Review, and Waxwing, among other publications.
"Drawing the monster of inheritance as it shapeshifts, these poems illustrate how our fathers’ sins can make fugitives of us. When an insistence on ‘holding up the bloodstained banner’ has led to autophobia, what then to make of our mother’s tear‑stained face in the mirror, her ‘breathing like a gazelle run down?’ Saved in moments by something as simple as the sight of the lemons growing in their grandmother’s yard, abandoned in others to ‘don’t touch me’ seeping through the wall, the speaker in this elegiac collection finds in the fact of flesh the hope of praise.” —Lyrae Van Clief‑Stefanon, author of Open Interval
“If ‘we are nothing more than heirloom seeds / falling into the dirt and blooming,’ then Blessed Are the Peacemakers forces us to consider which birds of hell and paradise fly from the soil of family and nation. The speakers of Janae’s magnificent garden merge memories and insights with the death, deception, and desire we often lack the courage to face. The wonder of this arresting collection is how in reckoning with legacies of violence, estrangement, and love we ‘learn, just a little, about peace.’” —Ama Codjoe, author of Bluest Nude
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