Cover Image: woke up no light

woke up no light

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

This is a beautiful collection of poems from Leila Mottley showcasing what it was like to grow up as a black woman in Oakland. It was raw and sincere and it hit on so many taboo topics. The queer representation was so good. She really helped me understand a life I would never experience just due to my own location and race. She never oversimplifies what it means to be a Black woman and for that I am forever grateful for her opening up her heart and mind to all women across the world to inspire.

Was this review helpful?

These poems are personal, with a strong sense of voice. Many of them deal with identity and growing up as a Black woman; they are of the moment and engage with current issues.

This collection is accessible, but not easy--it's ambitious and layered enough for the poetry enthusiast but also open to new readers who are testing out poetry.

Thanks to the publisher, the author, and Netgalley for my earc. My opinions are all my own.

Was this review helpful?

Mottley’s poetry debut begs to be read. I read this collection in two sittings and it probably would have been all in one if I hadn’t been interrupted. I loved the way we journeyed with her through sections from “girlhood” to “neighborhood” and eventually “womanhood.” She covers a variety of topics in honest, accessible, yet poignant language. There were definitely moments when I had to stop and reread a phrase because it demanded its bittersweetness demanded to be savored.

Thank you to Knopf and NetGalley for the e-ARC!

Was this review helpful?

When I read Leila Mottley's debut novel, Nightcrawling, I remember thinking how much her lyrical prose read like poetry, so I couldn't wait to read her debut poetry collection, woke up no light. And it absolutely blew me away.

The poems are divided into four categories, or phases of life -- girlhood, neighborhood, falsehood, and womanhood -- and explore the wide range of the female experience, specifically Black girlhood and womanhood. They're modern in their execution, but draw on the past to make bold statements and poignant observations about being a Black girl in America today. They are intensely personal, emotionally devastating, and fiercely unapologetic, and a few of them left me breathless.

My favorite poem was "my great-grandmother's hand in the back pocket of all your jeans," and here are just a few of my favorite lines across the collection (definitely hard to narrow down, because I highlighted something on nearly every page):

When you grow up, you will forget
it all. And isn't that a solace?


To be Black and
Girl is to not only fear the slaughter
of your body, but to fear the body itself.


If biology could explain it all
we would never know of fairies or prayers

woke up no light is a moving poetry collection that I know I'll revisit frequently. Thank you to Knopf, Pantheon, Vintage, and Anchor for the complimentary reading opportunity.

Was this review helpful?

a stunning and powerful collection. pulls from the modern and the before in such skillful ways. good book for poetry readers of any level

Was this review helpful?

Leila Mottley crafts noteworthy and masterful poetry. A talented voice with a keen eye, and an inviting form.

Was this review helpful?

Mottley's poetry is raw and sincere and pulls not a single, solitary punch. She talks about race, about family history, about LGBTQIA+ identity, and the intersection of all those things. One of my favorites, near the end of the collection, grapples with what it means to bring children into a world that's on the brink of climate crisis, and whether queer couples seeing fertility treatment through things like IVF are more culpable for their children's futures than straight couples who can at least claim that their pregnancy was an accident. Coming on the heels of poems about ancestry, in particular an erasure poem derived from a will declaring the fate of enslaved people as inheritable property, this is all the more powerful. Both past and future are called into question, not only for the poet, but for the reader as well.

Poetry and nonfiction, especially when it exposes so many of the poet's wounds, is hard to rate objectively in the limited framework of a star category. Per usual with chapbooks, four stars means I really liked it and would recommend it. Mottley's work is absolutely worth reading. My personal preference is for poetry that uses surprising language or unexpected forms. Others may find that the more direct free verse style preferable.

Was this review helpful?

Poetry can be hit or miss for me but this one knocked it out of the park! She is so talented it's unreal. I will be returning to this one often to re read some favorites.

Was this review helpful?

In this incisive collection, Mottley dissects the lives of Black girls and women via 4 sections, Girlhood, Neighborhood, Falsehood, and Womanhood. LIGHT is at once a political work emphasizing that Black girls are often forced to grow up before adulthood and a love letter to her "hood" that nurtures Black girls and their art.

While some poems flew over my head, I loved how profound the ones I could interpret were. Some highlights are a case for / against reparations, boys will be boys will be animals will be tender will be lost will be—, Elijah McClain's Last Words, Fire Season, Cellular, what do you do when you see a Black woman cry, Respect, Futurist

Was this review helpful?

I loved Leila's debut novel so much, so I was excited to read her poetry! She is a force! This collection is bold and a punch straight to the gut. I will be recommending this to all of my poetry loving friends.

Was this review helpful?

Very different from Leila Motleys first book. The anguish of life can still be felt on the page…this remained similar to her first work.

Was this review helpful?

I struggled with this one. The poems did not grab me or make me want to read more. However, I feel like this is subjective and not a reflection on the author. Poetry is so deeply personal that I feel it difficult to review. Like I am grading the emotions of the person who wrote it. Which is not possible. I am going to reread this at a later date in the hopes that I will take something away from it that I did not this time.

Was this review helpful?

This is my first time reading a book of poetry from Leila Mottley. Her writing is poignant, rhythmic, and striking. One of my favorite aspects of this books are the relatable titles of her poems such as Finna, ode to black girls who never learned to braid, and what to do when you see a black woman cry. I think that many black women will resonate with the notions of community, resistance, blackness, and womanhood.
Final rating 3.0/5
Thank you so much to Netgalley for an digital arc in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

This is the first book I have read by Leila Mottley, and it did not disappoint!!🥹I enjoyed this one and will definitely try her other book!!!🤗🤗

!!𝗜 𝘄𝗼𝘂𝗹𝗱 𝗹𝗶𝗸𝗲 𝘁𝗼 𝗴𝗶𝘃𝗲 𝗺𝘆 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝗻𝗸𝘀 𝘁𝗼 𝗡𝗲𝘁𝗴𝗮𝗹𝗹𝗲𝘆 & 𝗞𝗻𝗼𝗽𝗳, 𝗣𝗮𝗻𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗼𝗻, 𝗩𝗶𝗻𝘁𝗮𝗴𝗲, 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗔𝗻𝗰𝗵𝗼𝗿 & 𝗼𝗳 𝗰𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘀𝗲 𝗟𝗲𝗶𝗹𝗮 𝗠𝗼𝘁𝘁𝗹𝗲𝘆 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗮𝗿𝗰 𝗶𝗻 𝗲𝘅𝗰𝗵𝗮𝗻𝗴𝗲 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻 𝗵𝗼𝗻𝗲𝘀𝘁 𝗿𝗲𝘃𝗶𝗲𝘄!!

Was this review helpful?

Favorite Quotations:
Say Her Name morphs at the rally and I am
trying to reremember all the syllables
all the Sandra’s and Rekias and girls
who don’t make the headlines because they are
not dead
they have just been turned inside out

and i would say
after all that you did
what a shame

of all the things i could have been
never once did you think
i might not want to be small

Thoughts:
This was a powerful collection of poetry that touched upon so much (community, social justice, experience with Black men, girlhood, growth, & sexuality to name a few), but ultimately all center around her lived experience as a young Black woman in Oakland, California. This collection only cements what a powerhouse she is, and further exemplifies why she was the youngest author to have been nominated for the Booker Prize in 2022.

I will continue to seek out LM’s work; she is bold, direct, brave & spirited, & her poetry emulates all of these characteristics & more! I want to buy a print copy for my own collection when it’s out.

I am so grateful to Netgalley & the publisher that I was able to read this ARC. I’m providing this honest review of my own accord.

Content Warnings
Moderate: Racism, Toxic relationship, Classism, Grief, and Sexism
Not as detailed or on page: Murder, Police brutality, Death, and Misogyny

Was this review helpful?

This is the first book I've read by Leila Mottley, many readers are familiar with her first book Nightcrawling. Woke Up No Light is a good poetry collection, my favorite poem was "winter 2020", it was very powerful.

Thanks to NetGalley, Knopf, and Leila Mottley for a free ARC copy in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

I lucked out and read Leila Mottley’s poetry collection, Woke Up No Light, before it was released. She was the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate. When I saw that she was in the schedule for the @centerforliteraryarts I figured it was perfect timing.

Woke Up No Light is an incredible collection. Poetry collections are usually hard to rate however I felt like every poem in this collection felt strong and purposeful.

I found myself thinking a lot of Gregory Pardlo’s collection while reading this. There are a lot of thematic similarities while their style is night and day. Where Pardlo’s felt very intellectual and almost calculated, Mottley’s felt like a live wire, alive and raw. Both are incredible.

Was this review helpful?

Leila Mottley's collection woke up no light is a beautiful poetry debut. Mottley explores her girlhood and womanhood, her hometown of Oakland, and her family and ancestors, as well as larger topics of reparations, police violence, and more. The collection is well structured and fairly accessible though with Mottley's distinct style. She is such a gifted young writer and I'm excited to see what she writes next.

Was this review helpful?

This author is turning out to be quite a unicorn. I love these poems. She has such a beautiful voice. I look forward to seeing where she goes next.

Definitely recommend. 100%

Was this review helpful?

I Cannot wait until physical copies of this poetry collection are releases, because TRUST, I WILL be the first one in line to buy one. Nightcrawlin' by this author was a definite 5 star read and it was my most LOVED of 2022. Leila Mottley can write exceptionally well and that is demonstrated in this poetry collection. The writing in this collection is amazing, the subjects touched on and mentioned are something I could connect and relate to as a Black woman in america. I cannot wait to re-read this collection and analyze it when it comes out.

Was this review helpful?