Review: Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing

“This book is about my life and maybe also your life. And it is about the places we invent. Every story in it is absolutely true.”

I love this note from the introduction to Electric Arches because it speaks to my idea of what the truth really is. Ewing talks about the book being “absolutely true” right after she says it’s about “places we invent”. And after this, she goes on to say it’s about the past and the future. And then the first piece in the collection is about black revolutionaries dropping from the moon.

So this is not the sort of truth you’d expect from a newspaper story or a serious non-fiction account. It’s the sort of truth you’d expect from a poet. A deeper truth that bubbles up out of images so powerful that they stay with you long after the facts have been forgotten. The image, for example, of a six-year-old African-American girl riding her bike up and down the block, getting abused by an old white lady, and flying up on her bike high above the scene, scooping the mean lady up in her net, and leaving her out by a lake far away, even though her mom told her the flying bike was only for weekends.

As the stories and the images pile up, you get a true picture of what it must have been like for Eve L. Ewing to grow up in Chicago in the 1990s, a deeper picture than you would have been able to get from a “straight” memoir. This is what poetry can do.

Yet this is not even a “straight” poetry collection. It’s a mishmash of poetry and prose and visual art. Some of the visual parts didn’t work too well on my old-model black-and-white Kindle, so I’d recommend the paper version (or perhaps just a better e-reader!) if you do decide to read this book. There are hand-written notes, for example, that I could barely make out on my screen. Judging by the cover, the physical book may well be a thing of beauty.

Eve L. Ewing reading from Electric Arches
Eve L. Ewing reading from Electric Arches. Photo credit: Lauren Miller, https://eveewing.com/media/

There are stories of racism in this book. There is shea butter. There is Prince and LeBron James and Zora Neale Hurston sharpening her oyster knife. There are stories from hospitals and hair salons, serious stories and funny stories, stories that veer from girlhood to womanhood and back again. There’s a bewildering mess of details and images, poems and pictures and stories, past and present and future, with no lines drawn to tell you what belongs where.

And yes, she wasn’t lying. It really is all absolutely true.

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