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Halifax’s former Poet Laureate Afua Cooper and photographer Wilfried Raussert collaborate in this book of poems and photographs focused on everyday Black experiences. The result is a jambalaya — a dialogue between image and text. Cooper translates Raussert’s photos into poetry, painting a profound image of what disembodied historical facts might look like when they are embodied in contemporary characters. This visual and textual conversation honours the multiple layers of Blackness in the African diaspora around North America and Europe. The result is a work that amplifies black beauty and offers audible resistance.
“This artful text is the emphatic means by which Afua Cooper and Wilfried Raussert arrive at this historical moment. Crafted on an anvil of brilliant collaboration in the wild and overlapping histories of the modern world, the marks of Black life are revealed everywhere. This far-seeing work is a beautiful visual object that imagines us beyond the narrow spaces of coloniality. Black Matters intervenes at every turn.”
— Canisia Lubrin, author of The Dyzgraphxst and Voodoo Hypothesis
“If Black lives matter, what sort of matter is Blackness? To address this question, Afua Cooper and Wilfried Raussert bring vision and text together. In this beautifully sculpted book they stretch the skein of Blackness around grief, love, strength, persistence and revelation.”
— Robbie Shilliam, author of Decolonizing Politics and The Black Pacific
“How fortunate we are to have the record of this collaborative generosity and what a potent and timely conversation to be having. This is the agility of art: extending back into history with the vitality of a future fortified by dignity while remaining firmly rooted in the present. What combusts is inspiration — the sustainability of art in practice and how it makes sense of this time we’ve been brought together in. I’m so grateful for the contribution this book will make, the poignant energy it is composing for the living archive we’re making as we go.”
— Sue Goyette, Halifax Poet Laureate and author of Ocean
Through rhythmic and appealing verse, Cooper ties the past to the present, reflecting deeply on the meanings and motifs of Raussert’s visual works in ways that are simultaneously realistic and imaginative. From a photograph of a Black man holding his child, Cooper summons John Ware, a Black Albertan cowboy. With a storyteller’s proficiency, she details Ware’s life and speculates on his family’s history and origins in ancient African kingdoms. In a separate poem, Jupiter Wise, a Prince Edward Island slave, makes an appearance. Cooper reimagines Jupiter not only as a runaway but also as a djinn – Black skin with a white mask. Canada’s colonial history of slavery is not forgotten in Black Matters.
Cooper’s words also highlight the joy of contemporary Black lives and narratives. A love letter to Cooper’s daughter appears alongside a photo depicting a mural of Nina Simone. The changing landscape of motherhood is truthfully crafted, including the longing to reunite as the miles between parent and child stretch: “We held hands across centuries / and trekked across continents.” Cooper’s lines are dipped in craft that both grounds them in space and time and lifts them into hope and beauty. Photographs of Black dancers evoke a similar dynamism in the poetry: “you dance with the wind … your body start rippling like a snake … you come to life again.” An undeniable positivity in Cooper’s writing is married to a timeless question: “What Do You Do with the Hurt?” Here and elsewhere, Cooper interrogates the ways Black peoples live alongside never-ending harm: “Do you drag it around like a bag and pan / or lead it around like a weeping child?”
Black Matters celebrates the power of Black art. Both Cooper’s collection and Burning Sugar cherish, centre, and empower the variety and vitality of Black lives.
— Quill & Quire (full review)