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Reviews of Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves by J Lanham

Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves

by J Drew Lanham

Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves by J Drew Lanham X
Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves by J Drew Lanham
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Apr 2024, 112 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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About this Book

Book Summary

From J. Drew Lanham, MacArthur "Genius" Grant recipient and author of Sparrow Envy: A Field Guide to Birds and Lesser Beasts, comes a sensuous new collection in his signature mix of poetry and prose.

In gorgeous and timely pieces, Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves is a lush journey into wildness and Black being. Lanham notices nature through seasonal shifts, societal unrest, and deeply personal reflection and traces a path from bitter history to the present predicament. Drawing canny connections between the precarity of nature and the long arm of racism, the collection offers reconciliation and eco-reparation as hopeful destinations from our current climate of division. In Joy is the Justice We Give Ourselves, Lanham mines the deep connection to ancestors through the living world and tunes his unique voice toward embracing the radical act of joy.

Big Easy Black Bird

There are stories
the string of beads would tell,
hanging now as they do
from the sweep of live oak branch,
festooned like so much glamped-up Spanish moss.
What manner of drunken debauch warranted arboreal launch?
What was bared? What stayed hidden?
Who sinned? Was everyone the next day forgiven?
Does God, on that day, sneak a sip?
Would Jesus throw baubles at Mary Magdalene?
Ask her for a glimpse?
A crow strolls by,
black as night beneath a golden strand,
hanging a bit more than head high,
wobbling a bit in its corvid walk.
Drunk? I wonder.
Hungover under the overhanging glimmer,
it is the privilege of voyeur bird
to see. But not tell.
Wonder with my morning bourbon,
at my lips to hide the smile growing,
what kind of Big Easy crow
I would have been.

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

If one thing stands out above all else, it is Lanham's adoration of birds. As he puts it himself in the book's introduction: "Nature is my Goddess and birds, the heavenly hosts." In the freedom of their flight and the beauty of their persistent song, thematic parallels of perseverance and remaining positive are clear. In tandem with its commentary on the Black experience, the collection evokes parallels to Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It is therefore no surprise when Lanham references Angelou directly in the title poem:

Joy is the justice
we give ourselves.
It is Maya's caged bird
sung free past the prison bars

..continued

Full Review Members Only (620 words)

(Reviewed by Callum McLaughlin).

Media Reviews

Foreword Reviews
Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves is a melodious collection—an ode to choosing joy and to the resilience that such choosing requires.

Literary Hub
A deeply personal book that evokes joy and reflection by a writer whose generosity of spirit emanates from the page.

The New York Amsterdam News
Interweaving poetry and prose, Black joy shines through in this eco-aware, Black-centered book that offers a refreshing point of view and demands that Black bodies receive the same beautified Earth on which we were all born.

Booklist (starred review)
Lanham is warmly contemplative, righteous, incensed, funny, and grateful. His poetics, knowledge, and dissent run deep; his poems are winged.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
With his consistently engaging writing, keen eye, and generosity of spirit, Lanham is a writer to whom we should all listen closely. Lanham memorably, vibrantly shows how choosing joy is an act of resilience, courage, and power.

Author Blurb Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk
[T]houghtful, sincere, wise, and beautiful.

Author Blurb John Lane, author of Neighborhood Hawks
There's so much to admire here in the dense thicket of Drew Lanham's first poems and lyric prose pieces he calls 'field marks.' We don't need a literary field guide to recognize such a rare bird singing among us.

Author Blurb Sean Hill, author of Dangerous Goods
A keen-eyed observer of human nature and greater-than-human Nature, he sings the necessary songs of our time. Birding and poetry are practices of attentiveness, and the attention Lanham's given these poems will greatly reward any reader's attention. Lanham's is a vision and voice I admire; I'm as grateful for this book, this field guide, as he is grateful for the wildness in the world.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Books Exploring Our Relationship with Birds

Covers of the books about humans and birds covered in article Throughout his collection of poems Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves, J. Drew Lanham explores the restorative effect of immersing himself in nature. His particular passion, however, is birds. Humans have long been fascinated by the freedom, grace, and beauty of our feathered friends, ingraining them in mythology and symbolism for generations. As such, Lanham is not the first writer to explore our powerful relationship with birds, nor will he be the last. Each of the following books tackles the same topic, albeit from its own unique and fascinating angle.

Better Living Through Birding
by Christian Cooper


A lifelong lover of birds, Christian Cooper went viral in 2020 when footage of a white woman threatening to call the police on...

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