“People still sing goddamn it. Praise be to erica lewis.” — Sampson Starkweather
Third Man Books is very happy to release erica lewis’ new book of poems mary wants to be a superwoman. The notes are letters, the sounds are words, the rhythm in the breaks, the book is playing music on the page, it’s right next to our turntable, Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder shaking the room. Wonder plays a part in every poem, but he sits in the background, providing the groove with his keys, the lead is taken by lewis’s mother, mary, and lewis’ family, her friends, fellow poets, the world around her, all the struggles and triumphs, all in the key of life.
Being of black, Native American, and white descent, poet erica lewis’ mary wants to be a superwoman recounts her family’s history, their voices within that history — especially the women on her mother’s side — and her friends’ complex history with race, gender, and class in America, what it means to live with your own history, dealing with a history that has been passed down, and how to move on from that history and its implications.
It is lewis’ take on revising the confessional while taking inspiration from her family’s own oral history. Each poem is also framed by phrases from the lyrics of Stevie Wonder’s Motown records, but the poems are not “about” the actual songs, but what is triggered when listening to or thinking about the music. What happens when you take something like a pop song and turn it in on itself, give it a different frame of reference, juxtapose the work against itself, against other pop music, and bring it into the present. mary wants to be a superwoman is the second book of the box-set trilogy; daryl hall is my boyfriend (Barrelhouse, 2015) is the first.
praise for erica lewis:
erica lewis’ poems map the relationships among music, memory, place, and the passage of time … . By intertwining the public and the personal, Lewis’s poems become a membrane through which pop culture permeates the most intimate experiences of selfhood — Publisher’s Weekly
Every word is held accountable and must carry a sort of gravitas. For all the white space and sparse lines, what remains in the gaps after all the excess has been chipped away is striking. lewis manages to strip language down not to its bare bones, but the particulate marrow contained therein. — The Rumpus
mary wants to be a superwoman is a tapestry of woven continuums. Its images contain a methodical new naturalism where one’s past is the frontier, alternating with the brutal urgency of a witness who would save your life. erica lewis’ poems investigate the practice of identity and the sums of nonlinear biographies. Like a relaxed musician, she has the small secrets of the day at her fingertips. —Tongo Eisen-Martin, author of Someone’s Dead Already
This book made me suck my teeth and say goddamn, and yes, and thank you. This book hit me right in the ancestors, spoke to me like a sister. erica lewis is aware that time is fiction, in a way that only black women know. A collage of music and memories, language that’s lived before, people we carry and people we try to forget, causes and effects, the proverb that “everything is everything.” This work is both archival and built from scratch. It’s a stunning altar to the past, a balm for the present, and a prayer for what will be . — Morgan Parker, author of Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night
This is what it sounds like when a sparrow sings Stevie Wonder, when it casts a lariat around your wits, when it wears all its shit at once, grinds and prays and dances in the overdub till the rain falls upward, being the blues itself, being gospel sung straight into the mouth of the sun, a thrall to love in three-four time. — Julian Brolaski, author of Advice for Others
Open this book and hear the needle drop on the vinyl, the soft crackling surrounding lewis’ voice sing her stitched song of longing, love, & pain, heavily sampled with old soul, voiceless ghosts, and the disquieting hum of her living history and ancestors: “we are beautiful and powerful / some things i know for sure / the story of our love / the place i want to take you / after midnight / when the train comes i will hold you / to find my way back home.” From poem to poem, lewis lyrically invents a new music to survive the present with its “blue notes that didn’t exist before,” and reckon with the past: whiskey and jewels, friendship and fucking, “old blues to cover the new blues.” Like a dream turned inside-out, mary wants to be a superwoman is vivid, raw, and real, and will make you wanna cry and sing: “when the sky / is pink / with history / and yes / we will set sail / and smoke out / desperate fires / with these wings / and endless rain.” People still sing goddamn it. Praise be to erica lewis. — Sampson Starkweather, author of PAIN: The Board Game