A Chicago Review of Books Most Anticipated Chicago Book of 2023
“A truly magical achievement.” —Ocean Vuong
In Trace Evidence, the urgent follow-up to his award-winning debut Into Each Room We Enter without Knowing, Charif Shanahan continues his piercing meditations on the intricacies of mixed-race identity, queer desire, time, mortality, and the legacies of anti-Blackness in the US and abroad. At the collection’s center sits “On the Overnight from Agadir,” a poem that chronicles Shanahan’s survival of a devastating bus accident in Morocco, his mother’s birth country, and ruminates on home, belonging, and the mysteries of fate. With rich lyricism, power, and tenderness, Trace Evidence centers the racial periphery and excavates the vestiges of our violent colonial past in the most intimate aspects of our lives. In a language yoked equally to the physical and metaphysical worlds, the poet articulates the need we all share for real intimacy and connection, and proves, time and again, that the true cost of our separateness is the love that our survival requires.
Stunning and heart-wrenching. . . . An absolute tour de force that brings words to some of our deepest desires.
—Chicago Review of Books
Trace Evidence is an astute, subversively reserved, and propulsive book, in which reverence for the line and its possibilities fashions an eros that’s made new through precise yet concussive turns of phrases. All of which reminds you what sits at the heart of these poems: that ‘you are actually very good at joy.’ A truly magical achievement.
—Ocean Vuong, bestselling author of Time Is a Mother
Revelatory and pulsating with truth, Trace Evidence is a dangerously wise book of poems. Each poem is full of muscular music and meticulously carved out of longing as they ask, not just why we live, but how we live, and for whom. Wholly human and deeply rooted in attention, this book is for anyone who has ever questioned where they belonged.
—Ada Limón, 24th U.S. Poet Laureate and author of The Hurting Kind
Ecstatic in their exactitude, crystalline in their wisdom, these poems remind me of the period after a great struggle, when body and psyche recover one another. Trace Evidence is an utter revelation.
—Tracy K. Smith, 22nd US Poet Laureate and author of Such Color: New and Selected Poems
Charif Shanahan is examining race and sexuality in ways I have not seen. Trace Evidence mines the most intimate reaches of our colonial past to ask these important questions: How do we live and love with so much betrayal? Betrayal of the self, by family, lovers, friends, the body’s betrayal of itself? Notably, the book contends with an anti-Blackness beyond the familiar narratives of our contemporary moment: here, it emanates from the Arab world through the very parent who confers Blackness to her children, offering nuance and complexity to the ways in which we tend to consider the subject. And while there is a through-line of pain in this book, as it explores the liminality of mixed-race identity, time and mortality, it neither ends in despair nor seeks to assign blame. . . . Charif’s is a necessary voice.
—Natasha Trethewey, 19th U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Native Guard
In Trace Evidence, Charif Shanahan writes a world. It is a whole world, a full world, because Shanahan knows what to leave out—his is neither a maximalist’s art, nor a minimalist’s art, but a completist’s art, an art that understands maximalism tends toward deception, and minimalism tends toward exclusion. A poet who is a completist is a welcoming poet, and in its treatment of some of the most divisive social issues of our day, Trace Evidence is a wholly welcoming book, a book in which a reader can live.
—Shane McCrae, author of Cain Named the Animal
Epic in scope, packed with emotional power, fiercely intelligent, sensual, erotic, audacious, tracing lineages of race and of family and of love, presenting the hard evidence of socially structured hatred and destruction, spiritually infused with human being: ‘If you are on this earth / You are of this earth,’ the poet insists, in a book brilliantly and beautifully shaped and alive with the hope that poetry alone can bring. I call out Trace Evidence for what it is: a masterpiece.
—Lawrence Joseph, author of A Certain Clarity: Selected Poems