Poetry: Emily August's debut explodes our ideas about biraciality and why institutions are larded with violence.
This ferocious vision of personal and cultural histories enters us through dark-wooded stories, folkloric in their eerie clarity. This brilliant, heartbreaking book confronts race, power, violence, and how we shape one another, daring us to contemplate what it could mean to “put the fear down.”
Poetry. History. African & African American Studies. Women's Studies.
“A book of modern folklore populated with wounded mothers and fathers, haunted healers and oracles, THE PUNISHMENTS MUST BE A SCHOOL examines biraciality in America, to be born ‘bursting from the black rock of the earth in a plume of white ash.’ The speakers of these poems receive lessons in cruelty, tutorials in deracination, bodies split from themselves and from the green world of pine trees and meadows. These brilliant lyric poems reclaim, revise, and rewrite the old stories so that the next generation might receive a new narrative.”
—Jehanne Dubrow, author of Wild Kingdom
“This ingenious debut never shies away from the torments inherent to colonization and education. To these pains August gives the full attention of her remedies. Like the treatments of trustworthy doctors, these poems heal without the ethers of cheap transcendence.”
—Michael Walsh, author of Creep Love and editor of Queer Nature
“Emily August’s gorgeous debut collection is both sculpture and scalpel. This is poetry carved from the exquisite chill of marble and the messy viscera of bodies. Her subject is the brutal spectrum of violence, from the domestic to the institutional. How does a family move past a history of abuse? Why do our institutions—the school, the medical complex, the theater—need violence to survive, and what is lost to our rituals of obedience?”
—Leanna Petronella, author of The Imaginary Age
“With the rigor of a scientist investigating specimens under a microscope, these exquisite, profoundly intelligent poems confront the ways inherited trauma operates in our lives. As the speaker journeys through personae she adopts for survival, keen observation provides its own kind of healing.”
—Lisa Dordal, author of Water Lessons and Next Time You Come Home
“From their razor-sharp intelligence and wit, to their winding and inventive syntaxes, to their unflinching renderings of violence both past and present, August’s poems are loaded with slow-burn intensity that nearly ignites the page. Here we see emerge one of the finest examples of a unified lyrical consciousness in contemporary American poetry.”
—Chad Abushanab, author of The Last Visit
Emily August is an Associate Professor of Literature at Stockton University. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets, her poems have appeared in Callaloo, Cimarron Review, Ninth Letter, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere. She divides her time between Lake Superior's North Shore and the Atlantic Ocean's Jersey Shore.