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 plague 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?
"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 blood‑stained 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