My Baby First Birthday
A New York Public Library Best Book of 2020
A Best Read of 2020 at Ms. Magazine
“To read Jenny Zhang is to embrace primal states: pleasure, hunger, longing and rage.” —TIME
Radiant and tender, My Baby First Birthday is a collection that examines innocence, asking us who gets to be loved and who has to deplete themselves just to survive. Jenny Zhang writes about accepting pain, about the way we fetishize womanhood and motherhood, and reduce women to their violations, traumas, and body parts. She questions the way we feminize and racialize nurturing, and live in service of other people’s dreams. How we idealize birth and being baby, how it’s only in our mothers’ wombs that we’re still considered innocent, blameless, and undamaged, because it’s only then that we don’t have to earn love. Her poems explore the obscenity of patriarchy, whiteness, and capitalism, the violence of rescue and heroism. The magic trick in My Baby First Birthday is that despite all these themes, the book never feels like some jeremiad. Zhang uses friendship as a lyric. She seeks tenderness, radiant beauty, and having love for your mistakes. Through all this, she writes about being alone—really alone, like why-was-I-ever-born alone—and trying, despite everything, to reach out and touch something—skin to skin, animal to animal.
An all-consuming anger had me devouring this book in one sitting. And the book devoured me. We burned together.
—The New York Times Book Review
To read Jenny Zhang is to embrace primal states: pleasure, hunger, longing and rage.
These poems … have felt like a lifeline of sorts. Not because they’re unrelated to ever-present concepts like loneliness and longing, but because they deal with those things — as well as love and lust and violence and injustice and life — head-on. Zhang’s writing is visceral, urgent, and hot — her poetry is never a distraction, but rather a beautiful, rage-fueled call to arms.
This is an arresting collection you’ll want to read again and again.
When diving into a novel or non-fic feels like a mammoth task in an uncertain world, poetry may be the salve you need – and specifically, it’s Jenny Zhang’s new book of poetry that you definitely want to get at. … My Baby First Birthday will leave you breathless.
Daring. . . . In this stirring book, Zhang offers a bounty of memorable lines that celebrate and question the difficulties of womanhood and survival.
Jenny Zhang will always be one of the most important poets writing today. She consistently and constantly stretches the lyric to its necessary and best intentions, telling it where it only may dream or dare to go.
—Dorothea Lasky, author of Milk
My Baby First Birthday is like performing when you suspect someone is watching vs when you hope someone will pay attention. It’s viscous, oozing with anger and humor and sexy, sexy death. I love how it opens and opens and opens itself, exasperated by the world history of contradiction and inequality—yet, despite itself, retains a tender, caring core. This book is literally breathtaking. By the end I had to remind myself to breathe.
—Tommy Pico, author of Feed
Rabelais wrote Gargantua and Pantagruel and Jenny Zhang wrote My Baby First Birthday, a marvelous book full of cunts, puke, farting oceans, and seppuku, which amounts to an accuracy of feeling. I will probably get in trouble for putting Rabelais in a blurb because almost nobody reads old books or really any books. Jenny Zhang makes me feel alive. Her rage and appetites are unslakable. If everything feels stupid and wrong to you, congratulations: read this book.
—Ariana Reines, author of A Sand Book