Review: “Not Without Our Laughter: Poems of Humor, Joy & Sexuality”


Not Without Our Laughter: Poems of Humor, Joy & Sexuality, by Black Ladies Brunch Collective
Mason Jar Press, 2017, 84 pages, $15
ISBN 9780996103725

Open Not Without Our Laughter (Mason Jar Press, 2017) and you open your heart to  stories of self-discovery and acceptance. Saida Agostini, Anya Creightney, Teri Ellen Cross Davis, Celeste Doaks, Tafisha Edwards, and Katy Richey are the voices of the Black Ladies Brunch Collective; founded in Washington, DC, in 2014, the collective is self-described as “a group of black women whose aim is to lift up, promote and inspire the voices of black women.” Its members’ works are raw portraits of life as black women: battling racism, embracing sexuality, confronting mental illness. Some of the pieces are reactions to other poems within the collection, which makes reading Not Without Our Laughter like witnessing a conversation between friends.

The collection begins with Anya Creightney’s “Leaving the House.” Bold and unapologetic, it offers a new perspective on the struggle black women face trying to fit into a society replete with racial bias. The speaker finally decides to leave the house loud and proud, staying true to herself, so that if “provocation comes / I can say I did it.”

Evaluation of personal identity continues as a theme throughout the collection. Saida Agostini’s poems comment on life as a queer black woman. “Adventures of the Third Limb” is an empowering exploration of queer intimacy with a comedic twist: the personification of a dildo. The tone becomes more serious in Agostini’s “Harriet Tubman is a Lesbian,” which addresses the lack of queer representation in history. The speaker demands “a hero, a full on black queer woman setting fire to slave ships.” Teri Ellen Cross Davis responds in her poem “Knowledge of the Brown Body,” writing that if Harriet Tubman had been a lesbian, “I would know that this body I own, had once been coveted for its sake and its sake alone.” Tafisha Edwards and Katy Richey speak of vaginas in their pieces “Baby, What that Mouth Do” and “Manifesto of a Born Again Internal Organ.” This bluntness is refreshing and needed in a society that still shuns female nipples outside of cinema.

In her poem “#NotYourModelSurvivor,” Tafisha Edwards lists her strategies to maneuver in the world. She then says she has “no encouraging words to give you”; readers may learn from her words, but they must also manage life in their own ways. Celeste Doaks expresses her own search for answers to life’s mysteries in her poem “Finding the Divine.” Her frustration is felt in her opening line: “we find divinity wherever the hell we want.” She later questions, “is nothing sacred? Maybe everything is holy.” As in the other poems in this collection, Doaks leaves the reader wanting more.

Not Without Our Laughter flows as one consciousness, an intimate, honest set of diary-like servings, baked by six hosts. The poems in this collection coexist like the organs of a body, pulsing together and separately, as its contributors explore life as, queer, straight, single, married, neurodivergent, black women.