Wannabe Hoochie Mama Gallery of Realities’ Red Dress Code: New & Selected Poems

reviewed by Jennifer Michael Hecht

Thylias Moss’s New & Selected is a dense parcel of genius. “Spilled Sugar” starts, “I cannot forget the sugar on the table. / The hand that spilled it was not that of / my usual father, three layers of clothes / for a wind he felt from hallway to kitchen, / the brightest room though the lightbulbs / were greasy.” The poem only goes on a bit longer but packs in metaphysical conclusions and psychological puzzles. The poem has a “father” in most stanzas, or a “Father,” always dangerous. As for beauty and shock, Moss also delivers: “The sugar like bleached anthills of ground teeth.” Moss’s rewrite of Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Interpretation of a Poem by Frost,” is brilliant, showcasing a black girl looking into those same woods. There are poems throughout that engage living in a racist culture in wise and violent awareness, as well as the weight of womanhood. Moss is funny, too, and her imagery memorable. The new Moss poems in this collection are also strong. “Hypnosis at the Bird Factory,” a longer poem, is not to be missed. The book’s title poem arrives almost at the end and it is a marvel of metaphysical and emotional inquiry. As it explains, given the nature of the subatomic, one way to wear a red dress is to wait while the atoms of a red dress happen to pass through your body.

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This review originally appeared in American Poets, Fall–Winter 2016.