Elizabeth Acevedo’s “The Poet X” brings to light the beauty and nuances of teenage Afro-Latinx experiences.
By Ruby Mora
Literature was a pivotal part of my upbringing. My mother read books to me and planted this love early on in my life. I read mostly young adult fiction and poetry in high school, but I’ve realized over the last five years or so that most of the YA literature I grew up reading was not only written primarily by white authors, but also had main characters that were white, and if there were people of color, they ended up being severely stereotypical sidekicks to the main characters.
Even years after my time in high school, the lack of work written by marginalized voices in the literary world is still an unfortunate trend, but there has been a progressive movement, especially in 2017 and this year, where there were many significant works released by women authors of color: “Her Body and Other Parties” by Carmen Maria Machado, “Peluda” by Melissa Lozada-Oliva, and “Don’t Call Us Dead” by Danez Smith, just to name a few.
One book, specifically a novel-in-verse, and its March release is already sparking such progressive changes in the literary world. “The Poet X” by author and immaculate poet Elizabeth Acevedo provides a unique form of storytelling through poetry, while centering the story around Xiomara Batista, a Dominican teen living in Harlem who processes her surroundings and occurences within her family and outside of it through poetry, in an environment where she states she feels unseen and unheard.
The use of poetry as the means to tell Xiomara’s story was not only fitting for the author who wrote it, but it also ended up being a brilliant way to tell the story of someone who’s coming into their own identity and finding their truest self and voice through slam poetry.
Acevedo used multiple formats of poetry to help further clarify the scene the poems depict, and some of these formats help with expressing particular feelings within the piece. In addition, there were parts within the novel that strayed outside of any poetry layout in order to add written things like assignment drafts (in MLA format!) Xiomara wrote for her English class, and notes from her professor to Xiomara about her work. Adding these items into a novel that’s already so intimate added an even more depth to “The Poet X”.
Acevedo was not only able to seamlessly create pieces which added to the narrative of Xiomara’s life, but also gave glimpses into her deepest thoughts about her surroundings, her inner turmoil, and her discoveries. Sexuality, identity of the body and self, how people view her based solely on her body type, and questioning religious ideals are some topics that Xiomara delves into, especially the latter.
Xiomara’s questions about Catholicism and how many of its morals seem severely misogynistic and devalues women. She questions the book of Genesis in the Bible and its depiction of Eve having to resist the apple, usually translated as a metaphor for temptation. Like many teens growing up surrounded with religion, there’s always that moment of thorough questioning in some way or form, especially if it is heavily ingrained in one’s life, and Xiomara’s valid questioning added an intimate lens on a normally quite private reflection.
The vigorous storytelling that Acevedo gives us within each piece in the novel cannot go unmentioned when talking about “The Poet X”. Being familiar with Acevedo’s past work and performances of many of her pieces (that can be viewed on YouTube), she has previously depicted vivid scenes and images in her poetry and expresses such raw and untethered emotion, and it’s no different in this novel. She excels at this, and it is especially reflected in the poems within this book that pinpoint emotions being felt by Xiomara in instances where she is at her lowest and dealing with intense and heartbreaking experiences with her mother in the middle of the novel.
This novel brought a pure perspective of a woman of color in her teens coming into her own with everything around her, and having a woman of color write this story and give complexity and honesty to an Afro-Latinx character instead of having another stereotypical character is something that is needed in YA Lit and in general.
Representation matters — if you haven’t heard already —and the future of YA Lit and its intersections with poetry needs to be more representative of stories of marginalized people that aren’t told enough, if at all. Stories that the upcoming generation of Latinxs and WoC can relate to and react positively towards; stories that will have them say “she’s like me.” None of that stereotypical Latinx character nonsense in other novels is fooling anyone in 2018. Young Latinx women like Xiomara are learning more and more that complete inclusion, representation and diversity in the literary world and beyond needs to happen, especially in the U.S.
So many more words can describe how transcendent “The Poet X” is and how much it moved me. Coming from teenage years of knowingly reading YA novels that didn’t have women like me to a time where my worldview consists of so many women of color being able to get their work published, especially work that centers around viewpoints of people of color has me completely elated. This masterpiece of a novel where a Latinx character strives to feel seen and be heard will undoubtedly have millions of girls like Xiomara feel like they’ve truly seen themselves through her story that was birthed by such a pivotal voice in the current literary universe.
Check out the book tour dates for “The Poet X” here.
About the Author: Ruby Mora is a freelance writer and music photographer whose writing focuses on pop culture, identity, and feminism through a Latinx perspective. She’s written and photographed for the Philadelphia-based music site Rock On Philly.