by Joshua Burton
University of Wisconsin Press, 2023
Paper: 978-0-299-34164-0
Library of Congress Classification PS3602.U769775G73 2023
Dewey Decimal Classification 811.6

“Words carry the dead like henchmen,” in Joshua Burton’s extraordinary debut volume, Grace Engine. These spare and powerful poems are like pallbearers, like eulogists, like survivors, like battered souls hoping and dreaming for a future that may never be. Grappling head-on with the history of lynchings, mental illness, and the endurance of black bodies and psyches against impossible odds, Burton writes, “I spent so many years being afraid to be black, that now / I am only afraid of silence, / / or the silence that it brings.”

Burton experiments with spaces, absences, and forms in navigating the tensions between shame and accountability, guilt and forgiveness, to understand how one finds the ability to cope under the worst of conditions. With patience and ferocity, he delves into generational and familial trauma to question whether black strength is inherent to blackness and to build a mechanism to survive and heal.
I love all the dead,
both at the moment they unwed 

themselves of shame
and before that.
—Excerpt from “Grace Engine”

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