"These poems are excellent, lyrically athletic, brazenly honest, as sound as they are shattering...I found myself shouting or stunned silent after every poem." - Danez Smith
Joshua Aiken is a Cave Canem Fellow, his poems have appeared in publications such as Apogee, BOAAT, Copper Nickel, Muzzle Magazine, Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color, Pleiades: Literature in Context, The Rumpus, and Sixth Finch. Joshua is currently a doctoral candidate at Yale University in African-American Studies, History, and Law and a Teaching Fellow with the Yale Prison Education Initiative. He received graduate degrees in History and Forced Migration Studies from the University of Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar, and previously worked as the Policy Fellow at the Prison Policy Initiative and Researcher-in-Residence for Artspace New Haven’s exhibition “Revolution on Trial.”
"putting pressure on language like [Aiken] means to turn each word into coal & then burn it all down...there's a phoenix rising from these ashes— & ready to fly."
- Evie Shockley
Photo Credit: Marcus Jackson
From Palette Poetry, to be in & of is the debut chapbook of poet, anti-carceral advocate, and black studies scholar Joshua Aiken. Diving into the perils and contradictions of how black life is grieved in America, Aiken presses on the narratives of what it means to mourn, inherit, and belong. A meditation on family, loneliness, depression, and survivor's guilt, these poems break open new ways of living within loss and interrogating: "So who is all this healing really for?" With a sense of queer fury and alienation from the world as it is, to be in & of gives voice to speakers concerned with the 'costs' of 'getting better', the meaning of freedom, and the politics of how we stay alive. In the words of Contest Judge Chen Chen, to be in & of is a "collection full of wondering and wonderment" and "a constellation of poems spilling over with the vast aches of a heart so attuned to life, loss, and more life." With poems written after poets like Essex Hemphill and Richard Siken, and for figures like the Godfather of House Music, DJ Frankie Knuckles, Aiken's language bubbles over with the prospect of more life: the uncertainty, the unpromised, the shadows and ghosts, and the fierce joys, pleasures, and spaces that remind one of all that's left unexplored. This debut invites its reader to be thoroughly entangled with the dead and the living; to delight in the messy process of belonging and becoming, and to experience the beauty of worlds one might someday know.