When Rap Spoke Straight to God
A book-length poem navigating belief, black lives, the tragedies of Trump, and the boundaries of being a woman.
When Rap Spoke Straight to God isn’t sacred or profane, but a chorus joined in a single soliloquy, demanding to be heard. There’s Wu-Tang and Mary Magdalene with a foot fetish, Lil’ Kim and a self-loving Lilith. Slurs, catcalls, verses, erasures―Dawson asks readers, “Just how far is it to nigger?” Both grounded and transcendent, the book is reality and possibility. Dawson’s work has always been raw; but, When Rap Spoke Straight to God is as blunt as the answer to that earlier question: “Here.” Sometimes abrasive and often abraded, Dawson doesn’t flinch.
A mix of traditional forms where sonnets mash up with sestinas morphing to heroic couplets, When Rap Spoke Straight to God insists that while you may recognize parts of the poem’s world, you can’t anticipate how it will evolve.
With a literal exodus of light in the book’s final moments, When Rap Spoke Straight to God is a lament for and a celebration of blackness. It’s never depression; it’s defiance―a persistent resistance. In this book, like Wu-Tang says, the marginalized “ain’t nothing to fuck with.”
“When Rap Spoke Straight to God is utterly transporting. In language both elevated and slangy, saucy and tender, Dawson lovingly weaves the reader around her finger.”
“Erica Dawson has expanded the possibilities of what we think poetry can do. The lusciously long poems in When Rap Spoke Straight to God are sensual and openly political and so well-crafted in epic blank verse that we begin to see how the contemporary moment has yet to fully correct far too many historical moments. And it does this with a lyric intensity that I dare say can only be achieved by a poet fully aware of her place in time and its potential . . . or as Dawson herself says, this is ‘the story of a woman. How the skies/came out of her wherever. Spacious skies./Dark skies. Grown woman skies.'”
“Erica Dawson delivers a short collection of long poems that take our current time and dissect it into beautiful and evocative pieces. Harsh but never hard, unflinching but never violent, she speaks to the experiences of black women, celebrating the best of black culture and lamenting its struggles. Wrapped in and elevated by exquisite religious allusions, Dawson’s poetry shines.”
—World Literature Today
“Witty, wise, hilarious, enchanting . . . Read this book and you’ll want Dawson to sing of everything.”