Voice is what surfaces with absolute clarity in Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, a powerful narrative poem structure of a young woman pushing against the cultural barriers of her first-generation Dominican family in order to find herself. Xiamara Batista, or X, the main character through which the book/poem flows, is a cauldron of confusion, at times defiant; at times, fragile.
Where X finds herself is in her poetry, words as a source of expression. And slam poetry — the art of performing your poems to the world — is also where she loses herself.
When X’s mother, whose strict and confining cultural expectations of her daughter become an increasing source of tension and anguish, finds her daughter’s poems, in which X writes of a budding romance, she destroys her daughter’s book of poetry. X is distraught and angry, until she realizes her poems are in still in her head and in her heart.
The Poet X is a reminder that stories and poems flow through us all. And that these can become the threads of how we linger on our family, the past and the future. You won’t soon forget Xiamara Batista after reading this novel in verse.
Her words will linger.
I would say that this book is perfect for high school students, particularly those who don’t often see their own lives reflected in the books of our classrooms, but it may be a bit edgy for some middle school readers. There’s a real-life tension here, although nothing that would preclude this from being a potential classroom book. You might want to read it first. Well, of course, you should read it anyway.
Peace (in poems),