Book Review of "Newsworthy" by Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton
Newsworthy is a book of poems written by the 3rd Houston Poet Laureate, Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton. In this collection, she recounts recent yet overlooked instances of police brutality towards African Americans, her loved ones, and herself. The cover of the book is the silhouette figure of a human body with a deer head, a nod to one of the collection’s works titled Open Season, spoken from the perspective of a hunter (cop) reminiscing about the pleasure that comes from hunting prey (black youth). The speaker’s tone is one of excitement and glee at the opportunity of poaching wild game, and it strongly contrasts the details of the speaker’s hunting practices. The poem’s third stanza best encapsulates the aforementioned irony:
Don’t bother / sitting on top of an open hill /watching the surrounding pastures / and brushy banks / You’re better off inside the hood woods / so that if a boy buck / approaches / you can move back / stalk through cover / Dark fur / oversized antlers / the ones whose pelt sags / just below the waist / have the most tender innards / This one looked injured
dipped when he walked / already took a shot at ‘em / looked under 35 / That’s good / Get ‘em too old / they may have learned / how to run / how to stay quiet / invisible
The most coveted prey are stated to be young bucks (boys) from the woods (hood) with dark fur (skin), pelts (pants) that sag just below the waist, and gaits indicative of injury (swagger walks). Open Season illustrates how the oppressor dehumanizes victims of racial injustice and provides a stark contrast to the rest of the collection’s poems, which showcase the humanity and unadulterated stories of these individuals.
The first page of nearly every poem in Newsworthy displays mileage in the top right-hand corner. Although it is not explicitly stated what these distances represent, it can be inferred that she is documenting the distance between herself and the event described in the poems at the time in which they occurred. Victims of police brutality like Freddie Gray and Oscar Grant are referenced in the poems On Baltimore from Beeville and Freak Show Station respectively, as well as lesser-known individuals mentioned in other poems whose experiences are presented as equally legitimate. One such individual is Amandla, whose encounters with police and judicial oppression are spaced throughout the collection, starting with her as a child witnessing her brother and parents harmed and haunted by the police, and ending with her as an adult who had faced some jarring encounters of her own.
The book is separated into 8 sections, each one beginning with a poem about Amandla and her families' struggles before moving on to events spanning the entire United States. These introductory poems all have a title that begins with the phrase "The Time We …", and due to the relatability of the events shared in these introductory poems for many African Americans, the "We" in these titles might not only encompass Amandla's family, but also any who have endured heartache and loss at the hands of law enforcement. There are 23 poems in total, most of them written in free verse, but also in a way that compliments the message of each poem. For example, in a poem titled First Time Around the Block, the speaker counts from 1-10 and then back to 1, but D.E.E.P. arranges the numbers on the page similar to a hopscotch court. This is rather fitting for the poem, since the speaker and their companions are playing hopscotch outdoors when danger comes their way. In addition, the form of these introductory poems differs from that of the rest of the book in that they are haibans (prose followed by a haiku).
In the poem Filter (pages shown below), D.E.E.P. contrasts the narratives fed to the public about a black death with the reality of such a tragedy. One of the various beauties of this collection is that it grants special attention to tragic moments of oppression that were insufficiently broadcasted by the media. Thus, D.E.E.P. deems them “newsworthy.” Furthermore, the Amandla poems show that the African American experience is not solely composed of sorrow (as public narratives may have you believe), but also of unity. We read of the concern that Amandla’s family members have for each other when any are confronted by the police and we become witnesses of their efforts to ensure that no one feels alone. D.E.E.P. has demonstrated that this unity can enable a family, a people, and that people’s history to weather the storms that come their way. Thus, even with the book’s dark theme, love shines through and ultimately grants us the hope that these heart-wrenching stories will not be forgotten.