I was never taught to grieve unwanted attachments.
What do you do when your body becomes distant?
Therapists tell me it’s only a side-effect of trauma–
from “Pre-Top Surgery Pantoum”
How to Identify Yourself with a Wound, winner of the 2021 Saguaro Poetry Prize, is author KB’s first chapbook. KB, a genderless Black queer poet, brings a saliant and important voice to contemporary poetry, exploring themes of body politics, intimacy and grief through a vastly underrepresented lens. The collection is infused with timely commentary and intensely personal introspection about the various ways we categorize ourselves.
KB often considers the literal and figurative boundaries required to navigate Texas communities, offering insights informed by personal experiences in a remarkably accessible way. They express a complicated relationship with the idea of home, allowing space for both nostalgia and critique. “If you lay on the wood & rusted rail where southside/& the burbs meet long enough you hear the church ladies humming,” KB writes in “Greetings from Fort Worth, Texas.” Elsewhere, they consider the implication of Elon Musk relocating to Austin, a confused city that is both politically liberal and also heavily gentrified.
The title of the collection is derived from a series of poems that carry the same title throughout the book. Each entry is dated, allowing readers to track the physical and metaphysical progression of self-actualization and the author’s relationship with trauma. In “How to Identify Yourself with a Wound (2007),” a 12-year-old speaker admits they are “too young to hold a story no one listens to…wondering what it takes to be a little less visible–” By the end of the book, KB recognizes the wound as equally capable of memorializing beautiful, if painful, memories. “Soon, my chest will finish/growing skin that only you & surgeons have touched. Even when the world ends/in greed & misfortune, at least we will have treasured this exclusivity,” they write in “How to Identify Yourself with a Wound (2020).”
If How to Identify Yourself with a Wound has a flaw, it is that the collection reads like a true debut in that it lacks consistency. KB explores numerous forms, including pantoums, litany and nested poems. They are comfortable experimenting with physical space, both between lines and in the way they orient poems on the page. Voice, too, shifts from poem to poem. Still, I would not consider the inconsistency a shortcoming. Rather, it reminds readers that we are entering on the ground floor, walking alongside KB as they come into themselves through the poems. There is a keen sense that this is but the first step in what is sure to be an exciting career.