Title: even this page is white
Author: Vivek Shraya
Published by: Arsenal Pulp Press
Where I got the book: Public Library
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
This is going to be one of the most difficult reviews I’ve ever written. First, reviewing poetry is often like screaming into a cloudless sky. There is so much space to traverse, stumbling through poetics, rereading over and over again. And then your experience is different that other readers’. Poetry is highly personal, and all I can really do is tell you how I felt, not how it should make you feel.
Second, this is a poetry collection about race and racism, two things that I do not and will never experience. I’m white, and my experience of reading a collection of poetry about the lived experiences of racism written by a trans woman of colour, will be very different from someone who experiences racism in their everyday life.
So why review this book? Because this book is required reading in my opinion. even this page is white is everything poetry should be, powerful, evocative, personal, and moving. This is poetry as activism, a conversation about the complexities and experiences of race and racism that everybody needs to have. This is a collection to read and reread, over and over again, gaining new insights each time. I’ve tried very hard in this review to not let academic speak take over, and instead to focus on the experience I had reading this collection multiple times. Comments, critiques, and discussions are welcome.
“because what are words
and what is a dream
if it is not white?”
even this page is white is Vivek Shraya’s debut collection of poetry, published by the fabulous Arsenal Pulp Press. The collection is an examination and interrogation of the body and skin, examining the lived experiences and the intersections between racism, colourism, colonialism, gender, sexuality and transphobia.
even this page is white is divided into five different sections, ‘white dreams’, ‘whitespeak’, ‘how to talk to a white person’, ‘the origins of skin’ and ‘brown dreams’. Although Shraya has divided her poems into different sections, the themes of her work flow and build upon one another. even this page is white is a journey, for both the author and reader as Shraya writes about her own experiences of racism but also examines her complicity in these same power structures. This is poetry at its best, a deeply personal and moving examination of the self that critiques and challenges the reader, forcing them to acknowledge and examine their prejudices.
Shraya’s poetry is lyrical, grounded in bodily experience as a means of personal interrogation. The first poem in the collection “white dreams” is a strong opening, drawing together sex, skin, bones, ink, and words to interrogate the dream of whiteness. Shraya’s poems shape the struggle of her body existing in a world that doesn’t attribute it the same value as white bodies due to the colour of her skin, having to continually fight to prove her worth.
Shraya also doesn’t shy away from her own implications in racism, even as someone who is affected by it. In the poems “indian” and “amiskwacîwâskahikan”, Shraya examines her own impact in settler colonialism through the erasure of Indigenous voices. In the poem “fair”, which is dedicated to her brother, she says “but when they asked you/ why are you so much darker/ than your brother called you the n word/ lingered for an answer/ all i did was bask” examining her complicity in colourism which frames her personal value in relation to whiteness at the expense of the people she loves. “cycle of violence” closes the first section, drawing attention to anti-black racism.
“so i made your skin the colour of my home the night sky
you were already stars.
my skin is brown
to caution you of my fire.”
Shraya’s poetry is lyrical, powerful interrogation, shaped not only through her writing but how she plays with form on the page. I love how Shraya shapes her poetry as part of a larger conversation, bringing in bits and pieces from outside her work and transforming them, such as the poems ‘#oscarssowhite’, and ‘54,216 signed petition to ban kanye west from playing pan am games closing ceremony’.
“what if there is no right way to be brown
besides the brown you are”
even this page is white is a strong, powerful book for such a slim collection of poetry. It’s a must read for anyone looking for contemporary poetry or a collection from an emerging poet. I’m so glad even this page is white is starting to gain more mainstream recognition with having been nominated for Canada Reads 2017 and listed on Book Riot’s Under the Radar Books of 2016.
I recommend that you buy yourself a copy as half of Shraya’s author royalties are donated to the Native Youth Sexual Health Network. If you can’t afford to buy a new copy, ask your library if they’d consider purchasing it. Even though I got this book from the library, I’ll be looking into buying my own copy of even this page is white sometime in the new year so I can keep rereading it.