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A first poetry collection from Cave Canem fellow Nikia Chaney, this book percolates with experiment, energy, and love as the poet tackles race, poverty, aging, sexism, and more with wild insight and deft skill.
Nikia Chaney sets form on fire in the pages of her first collection. Taking the subject matter of race head-on, never forgetting its intersection with gender, this Cave Canem fellow juggles language, explodes the syllables and takes apart the ways we enter words, climb them, breathe them, react. Elaine Terranova says Chaney "can make words do anything she wants them to." Genevieve Kaplan adds, "Chaney doesn’t shy away from topics like age, poverty, or racism—or the failures of our minds, our relationships, or our bodies; instead... she reminds us, 'out there there’s a clearing asking you to dance asking you to dance / asking you / to rule.'"
“There is clear magic in the way Chaney spins words—her incantatory poems drown, suffocate, celebrate, and always bring the reader back to surface. The poems in to stir & combine images and conflate senses to make ‘teeth that unfurl like / ugly parts of balloons jagged as these pages,’ creating lyric arrangements that feel surprising and necessary, fabulous and wounding. Cheney doesn’t shy away from topics like age, poverty, or racism—or the failures of our minds, our relationships, or our bodies; instead she offers up ‘pearl with plate’ and ‘gold and more of brine’ to create folds, ripples, and euphony. Chaney reminds us, ‘out there there’s a clearing asking you to dance asking you to dance / asking you / to rule.’ to stir & creates its own glorious-strange alchemy, and you won’t want to miss it.” —Genevieve Kaplan, author of aviary
“Like jazz-infused socially conscious rap, Nikia Chaney’s to stir & employs whip-smart words and wildly inventive images to caress and cut us open. The title reverberates with both the domestic (to stir in), and the political (to stir up), while the subtitle embodies the double pull many of the poems enact: ‘even if it hurts so much I can only find enough breath left to dance.’ Here, breath evokes the drive to face traumas, the need to move beyond them, and George Floyd's ‘enough breath.’ These poems are athletic, muscular, grounded in generational trauma. These are poems of weathering, yet they dance lightly as well, folding in street beats and colloquialisms. For all the weight they carry—slavery to Jim Crow laws, incarceration rates to BLM, misogyny to mis-directed anger—they’re also firmly attached to her children, to the soil, to the Spanish language, to the ache of desire, and to the belief that dance and music can free us. This is Afro-futurism at its finest: ‘ain’t no romance in this kind of poverty just a chained dance where hands on necks / insist that pain feels good and us saying yes yes for our one / more gust of air to fill our chests.’ Breathe these poems in, breathe them deep, then dance them out again.” —David Sullivan, author of Butterflies Over Baghdad
“Nikia Chaney’s poetic vision is urgent and daring. In to stir &, she can make words do anything she wants them to. They come to life like Mexican jumping beans. Chaney can talk the pain of a breakup, the indifference of law or capitalism to human need, the fluctuations of love, romantic and familial. ‘The paper candies the air like/law while we/somersault through windows in hallways.’ In ‘The Blast Off” the poet imagines taking off for an alternate, hopefully better universe: “Watching through space windows/the seat of/this country’s/open purse/trauma finally receding.’ In Chaney's democracy of words, lines rush ahead in dizzying rhythms that reveal the jagged edge of all our concerns.” —Elaine Terranova, author of The Diamond Cutter’s Daughter: A Poet’s Memoir
Poetry. African & African American Studies. Women's Studies.
Nikia Chaney is the author of us mouth (University of Hell Press, 2018) and two chapbooks, Sis Fuss (Orange Monkey Publishing, 2012) and ladies, please (Dancing Girl Press, 2012). She has served as Inlandia Literary Laureate (2016-2018). Her poetry has been published in Sugarhouse Review, 491, Iowa Review, Vinyl, and Pearl, Welter, and Saranac Review. Her memoir, ladybug, is upcoming from Inlandia in 2022.