We Are Not Wearing Helmets
by Cheryl Boyce-Taylor
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Pub Date 15 Feb 2022 | Archive Date 13 Jan 2022
Northwestern University Press, TriQuarterly
Born in Trinidad and having grown up in Queens, Boyce‑Taylor creates a framework for her own experience out of the life experiences and work of beloved Black women in history. She salutes the women who have lifted her, including Audre Lorde, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ntozake Shange, and Winnie Mandela, as well as her mother, Eugenia Boyce, and her beloved daughter‑in‑law, Deisha Head Taylor.
The poems in this collection are unapologetic, fierce, and confrontational while remaining caring and intimate. They stand strong in the face of adversity and boldly demand what is owed while still honoring and cherishing what is loved.
“We Are Not Wearing Helmets builds upon and forwards the legacy of African American and women poets such as Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, Lucille Clifton, and Adrienne Rich. These are poems of memory, narrative poems that are both confessional and political. They document the poet’s own trajectory of becoming a writer, speak to the loss of her son and to motherhood, celebrate womanhood, and honor Black history and call for racial justice in the (now growing) tradition of poetry inspired by Black Lives Matter. I was particularly struck by the sequence of poems that are, in essence, odes to women—Black women, queer women, mothers. Whether the women she is writing about are figures from her life or the women authors she reads, we come to know these women and get a sense of the magic the poet feels in their presence.” —Vincent Toro, author of Tertulia
“’I follow the hurricane path through the middle passage,’ writes Cheryl Boyce-Taylor. In a nation that either ignores history or treats it as a spectacle, Boyce-Taylor confronts the enormities that have been erased from our self-knowledge. ‘To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger,’ James Baldwin wrote, and these beautiful poems come at an aching cost: ‘every day I carry a dark river in my hands.’ Yet—maybe it isn't a paradox—Boyce-Taylor’s lines glisten with joy and blessing. We Are Not Wearing Helmets is a work of visceral complexity and visionary urgency. In any age, this book would be vital. In ours, the actuality is searing.” —D. Nurkse, author of Love in the Last Days: After Tristan and Iseult
“Lifetimes of ancestor-breath, sweat, tears and dreams have realized themselves in the manifestation of these moving poems, peppered with the parlance of a homeland ever distant, never far. Graceful, gritty, crisp, authentic: this work is just the mirror and balm that the world needs right now. Never have we needed this collection more than this moment, these poems that demonstrate how the personal is the political, how relevance becomes timelessness. Full of shadow and shimmer with surprising punches and kisses that land clean, these poems spill blood and hold light all the same.” —Samantha Thornhill, coauthor of Watch Me Swing
“Here are flowers and their attendant fragrances: hope, heartbreak, pleasure, longing. Cheryl Boyce-Taylor offers a living archive that includes the dead, a loving archive that retains love’s complexity, a catalog of moments that cannot end. Enjoy this book and keep it in a place where you can see it. Maybe somewhere you would keep a carefully arranged bloom of flowers. It will continue to remind you of what life is: beautiful, specific, and too often cut short.” —Alexis Pauline Gumbs, author of Dub: Finding Ceremony