my dad told the psychiatrist I suffer

night terrors because I’m evading                      generations               of trauma


From “When I was 12”

I Am the Most Dangerous Thing, the debut full-length collection from Candace Williams, is a layered exploration of the systems that work to suppress queer Black lives in America. Williams puts their background in philosophy and politics on full display, thoughtfully navigating complex structures of racism, homophobia and misogyny. They engage these structures with a multitude of formal and experimental techniques, patiently and determinedly pushing back against the violences exacted on their body and bodies like theirs.

Williams shows a remarkable attention to the page, from their powerful line breaks to their nuanced use of white space and movement across each poem. This resonates well, as Williams continually confronts the juxtaposition of language and structures of oppression, at one point declaring, “I must suppress the savage/custom of eloquence.” The line break here exemplifies Williams’ command of the page, at once invoking the insidious trope that mischaracterizes Black agency as savage and turning that trope against itself to highlight the true savagery lying beneath “eloquence.”

The author follows this declaration with the poem “Black Sonnet,” which confronts one of the most celebrated structures in formal poetry. Williams pushes against the form, choosing to end every line with the assertion, “and I’m still black.” The effect is a jarring reminder that despite reading “a piece by Marx,” ringing “the front bell twice,” or being called to board a plane, Williams is first and always seen as Black. The final line, “I turn off all the lights and I’m still black,” is a thundering rebuke of how America continuously aligns darkness with Blackness.

“Blackbody,” a prose poem that begins with an epigraph defining a blackbody as “ideal” and “the perfect absorber” in thermal radiation, resituates Blackness as perfect while asserting that “the whiteness effect is warming our planet beyond safety.” This inversion is an essential part of the arc in I Am the Most Dangerous Thing, moving the reader ever closer to a complete rejection of the systems that work to marginalize and silence Black experiences

Williams also illustrates their expert use of erasure with “Whren v. United States,” which uses the Supreme Court ruling in the titular case as source material to comment on the correlation between racial profiling, traffic stops and state violence against Black motorists. They highlight the most haunting implications of the decision through their careful use of white space and deletion, reframing the court’s opinion to declare that “the decision to stop a black motorist is valid,” and that “in the absence of probable case,” officers can “simply explain the exemption from the need for cause.” Throughout the poem, readers must confront the ways in which legislation protects state violence and continuously puts Black bodies in harms way.

I Am the Most Dangerous Thing is an accessible and multifaceted debut that never shies away from its mission, to dismantle the systems that characterize queer Black bodies as inherently dangerous.

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