I Am Nobody’s Nigger

Dean Atta’s newest book isn’t out yet, so we get this book of poetry instead: I Am Nobody’s Nigger. It came out in 2013 but if I didn’t know that, I’d think it came out yesterday. Although I suspect Atta might have some cutting insights into today’s America. Atta’s themes and angst are still relevant.

In this slim volume, he rails about identity, family, expectations, his career and all the other little bits of life that unite us. And also, Batman, Bond and Doctor Who make a couple of appearances and I support this. How often are Batman and poetry united? Not very often, I bet.

Identity is prevailing theme.

In ‘Shadow Boxer’, Atta writes:

Oscar Wilde said, ‘Be yourself
Everyone else is taken’
But if I found your life vacant
I might take it
Because I believe
I would make the better you

But who’s to tell?

In ‘Therapy,’ he writes:

BBM me, B-befriend me
This iPhone is not my phone it’s a loan of identity
See, I can be whatever and whoever I want to be
With the right accessory, by any app necessary

Atta’s poetry is accessible: it captures angst that I am finding to be more and more common among Millenials (oh, those dreaded Millenials), who are struggling with who they are in lousy job markets, looming global threats, a life overrun with technology and the consequences (and sure, benefits) of that, and who are also rapidly heading into their ‘30s and ‘40s. That’s not something a lot of people think about, but yeah, that’s happening. I won’t make any assumptions about Atta’s age, but certainly any exploration of race, identity and sexuality by someone who is not white and and on the far side of middle age is going to find a ready audience. And it should.

Demographics are changing. So should the poetry everyone is reading.

Dean Atta was at Events 19 (Word!) and 50 (Come Rhyme With Me) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.

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