A Rich Book Of Poetry That Plays By Its Own Rules

The title poem of Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis is an epic narrative poem “comprised solely and entirely of the titles, catalog entries, or exhibit descriptions of Western art objects in which a black female figure is present, dating from 38,000 BCE to the present.” The ambition of this poem and, indeed, the entire collection, is grand. There is a prologue to the title poem where Lewis details the formal rules she established as she composed the poem and this prologue is as interesting as the poetry. Given the constraints Lewis establishes, it’s a marvel that the poem she crafts from these rules contains so much meaning.

Other standout poems include “Frame,” “Lure,” and “On the Road to Sri Bhuvaneshwari,” because of the crystalline imagery, the rich stories drawn through lyricism, and how from the beginning of the collection to the end, Lewis finds the necessary words to examine race, gender, and sexuality with intelligence and grace.