Review: You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, by Arisa White


You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened
by Arisa White

Augury Books
100 pages 

Language is at the heart of poetry, with each word carefully considered for its meaning, cadence and place. In You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, the third poetry collection from Arisa White, language is elevated and emphasized in an innovative way.

As per the publisher’s description, “Arisa White’s newest collection takes its titles from words used internationally as hate speech against gays and lesbians, reworking, re-envisioning, and re-embodying language as a conduit for art, love, and understanding.” Because many of the titles are common words that may not be readily apparent as offensive in English (but are derogatory in other countries and cultures), White includes a glossary of the words’ disparaging connotations.

(“…how sexist the language was, the fear of the feminine, how domestic, how patriarchal, how imaginative, and the beauty I discovered when I paused to wonder about the humanity inside these words and phrases,” White writes in an Introduction to You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. While reading these poems, beauty might not be the first descriptor readers conjure up.  Arisa White’s work is raw and searing, delving into topics many find difficult and perhaps even ugly.

And that’s exactly what makes You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened a touchstone collection, especially in these unprecedented times when our societal discourse, national rhetoric and political exchanges from the likes of the Republican candidate for President of the United States (and his entourage) divulge into demeaning and crass language about women, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, immigrants, and everyone who is perceived as different, flawed, “other” or “less than.”

If words could stick on people,
if spoken, they would become
a different creature.

Blinded and you’re turned
five times around. Nothing
in you knows what it knew.

It’s the best part of the game:
Prick the girls you like best
while pinning on the donkey’s tail.

Arisa White’s poems are rooted in words that demean and belittle  — but their transformation is a product of the inherent beauty of humanity and love for each other.  We may feel your words but we are greater than them, Arisa White seems to be saying. We are more than your hurled venom, larger than your overpowering prejudice and stronger than strangers’ stigma.

We’re queer and you look too much boy good thinking
taking the rainbow off the plates in Maryland —
no one looked at us longer than was needed.

As humans, as a people, we are encompassed by memory; we are love, we are our losses and life combined. (“I realized that the labels we use to name present us with a loss,” White explains in her introduction. “To name a person, an experience, or an object means we see it for that purpose, that utility, and gone to us is the ‘what else’ — the possibilities of everything the label can’t encompass.”)

Together since the year of my birth,
yet you are pantomime in the wings of our family’s speech
Why do you arch in shadows, 

accept the shade eclipsing her face? 
The holidays would be more gay 
if we didn’t ghost in dead air, 
in wooden boxes, letters folded over and over again, in locked rooms
where shames are secretly arranged— 

Nestled within You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened is an elegiac suite of poems titled “Effluvium.” (I needed to look up the definition; if you need a vocabulary lesson, too, tells us that it is “a slight or invisible exhalation or vapor, especially one that is disagreeable or noxious.”)  These poems, a remembrance “for Karen, 1963-2000,” focus on a loved one who died of AIDS. While several other offerings in this collection are slightly vague and indirect, this suite doesn’t need backstory.  The heartbreaking loss of a young mother in her late 30s is all we need to know.

For some, these will be difficult poems for their subject matter and the rawness of the language. It’s not a collection for everyone. But at the same time, it is for everyone because all of us have known pain and all of us have seen the ugly side that life can bring. And we’ve emerged through that experience changed by the way darkness can transform into light, and ugliness into beauty.


About Arisa White
Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess, Post Pardon, and Black Pearl. She was selected by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the 2010 Hot Pink List and is a member of the PlayGround writers’ pool; her play Frigidare was staged for the 15th Annual Best of Play Ground Festival. Recipient of the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House summer residency at Washington College in Maryland, Arisa has also received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Juniper Summer Writing Institute, Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2005 and 2014, her poetry has been published widely and is featured on the recording WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet.

poetic-book-toursMany thanks to Augury Books for providing a free copy of You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened and to Poetic Book Tours for including me among the bloggers on this tour. No monetary compensation was exchanged for this review.







Read-a-thon 2016: Update Post

Readathon - Day and Night

Hour 15 update: Still going strong. Mind you, I started the Readathon at Hour 7 and have had several interruptions (grocery shopping, making dinner) along the way but I’m pleased with how this is going. Almost halfway through Love Warrior, which is a great Readathon book — it’s a fast read.

Currently Reading:


Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

Books Read: 1


You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, by Arisa White. It’s a poetry collection that I’ll be reviewing on the blog this Monday.

Short Stories: 2
“To the Moon and Back” by Etgar Keret
“Two Men Arrive in a Village” by Zadie Smith

Both of these were from The New Yorker podcast “The Author’s Voice” which features authors reading their short stories from that week’s issue.

Pages Read183

Time Spent Reading: 4.5 hours

Social Media: Twitter. That’s where most of my cheerleading seems to be happening. As usual, I’m going to need several days to go back and discover the new-to-me blogs and add them to my Feedly.

Food Consumption:
Breakfast – Toast, Strawberry/Banana Yogurt
Lunch – Hummus, tortilla chips and cheese stick
Dinner – Tomato Lentil Soup
Snacks – Dark Chocolate Square; Trail Mix
Beverages – Water, Coffee

Are you participating in the Readathon? How’s it going for you?


Ready for the Readathon! (Kick Off Post)

Readathon - Day and Night

Today is one of my favorite days of the year — Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon, an online community celebration of reading and connecting with others who love books. To quote the event description, “for 24 hours, we read books, post to our blogs, Twitters, Tumblrs, Goodreads and MORE about our reading, and visit other readers’ homes online. We also participate in mini-challenges throughout the day. It happens twice a year, in April and in October.”

Needless to say, I love everything about the Read-a-thon. I love discovering new-to-me blogs, seeing what other people are reading (and adding those books to my Goodreads), sharing bookish conversation on Twitter and (new for me this year) Instagram and Litsy, and cheering on others who are among the hundreds (thousands?) of readers engaged in the love of all things literary.

Most of all, I love that it honors Dewey, a beloved book blogger who passed away in fall of 2008.  She was passionate about books and connecting people.  She  was (and still is) very special to many of us in the book blogging community. It’s a gift to be able to carry her legacy on and celebrate her life through things like the Read-a-thon, which she started and which was one of the ways I was first introduced to the book blogging world back when I started blogging eight years ago in August 2008, shortly before Dewey passed away.

Read-a-Thon, Fall 2016 Edition
I’m getting a late start on participating today; as I write this, the Read-a-thon is heading into Hour 6 and besides this post, I’ve done nothing but sleep in a bit (storing up energy for the later hours), eat breakfast and read the newspaper (that counts as Read-a-thon reading, right?) and check in with Read-a-thon happenings online.

Weather-wise, it’s cloudy and cooler than usual here in Pittsburgh, a perfect day to be curled up inside reading. At some point today I’ll need to take a break to do this week’s meal planning and grocery shopping.  (There are much more organized Read-a-thoners who get that sort of nonsense out of the way days before Read-a-thon.  I’m not one of those people and most likely never will be.)

So, without further ado, here’s my smallish pile of books that I plan to read from during today’s festivities:



You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, by Arisa White (not pictured, as this is an online poetry collection I’m reviewing)

American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, by Nancy Jo Sales (I’m on page 187 of this; I’d like to finish it today)

A Want of Kindness, by Joanne Limburg (may not get to this as this is a book I’m reviewing and I typically don’t read review books during Read-a-thons, but this one has a looming deadline so it might be a necessity ….)

Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton

Springtime, by Michelle De Kretser

Shut Up and Run, by Robin Arzon

I’ll do another post later today that will serve as a one-stop for updates, etc.

Happy Read-a-thoning to all who are participating!


Sunday Salon/Currently … October 16, 2016

Sunday Salon banner

Like many people, the political events of this past week have left me emotionally drained. It was a difficult week, a painful one, with so many of us feeling shaky and in solidarity with the women who so publicly and bravely shared their stories of sexual assaults that happened decades ago. It’s horrifying and astounding that nearly every woman among my Facebook friends has experienced this trauma. So many of us are feeling this so very personally and if you also have been reliving difficult memories this week, I hope you know this:  I see your pain, I hear your cries and your stories, and I am right there with you.

(And if you haven’t watched Michelle Obama’s powerful and emotional speech on this issue in its entirety, you need to do so. Right now.)

On Friday, I decided to initiate a little weekend social media break from reading any election-related posts or articles. It’s a tough balance for someone like me who is very much of a news and political junkie and who is definitely afflicted with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  But it felt necessary.

I think it was somewhat successful. Here’s what I did:

slow-cooker-lasagna-soup1) Made a fantastic recipe (Slow Cooker Lasagna Soup) that everyone in our family liked, which is unheard of. It’s from Skinnytaste: Fast and Slow, the new cookbook from Gina Homolka (Skinnytaste). I made some modifications to this recipe, using some leftover vegetarian meatballs instead of chicken sausage. I also didn’t have any gluten free lasagna noodles, so I made it with regular noodles and just didn’t eat those.   This is going in our regular rotation.

2) Planned some dinners for this week and next, and went grocery shopping (as per usual).

3) Went shopping with The Girl at Plato’s Closet and Target. She needed some long-sleeve shirts and I wanted to get myself some proper running clothes. I found a pair of capris, a top for when the weather gets cooler, and a sports bra.

4) Wrote a freelance book review and submitted it at the eleventh hour.

american-girls5) Read. I’ve been reading American Girls: The Secret Lives of Teenagers this week. Our school district is hosting Nancy Jo Sales tomorrow night for a presentation and discussion, and I’m planning to attend. I think this is an important subject for parents, and although I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about the realities of teens’ lives on social media and how to monitor it (which we do), this book is definitely eye-opening and educational. I’m not going to finish it before tomorrow night, though.

6) Ran.  I finished Week 4 of Couch to 5k, but I think I’m going to repeat this week. I’ve only been able to get through the first full run and most of the second.

Hope you had a great weekend!

Book Review: Leave Me by Gayle Forman

Leave Me, by Gayle Forman

“But hearts are complicated and fragile things. They break for medical reasons, but frequently crack from the pain caused by unresolved questions and conflicts, changing friendships and devastating losses. Sometimes it’s necessary to leave everything we know behind, connect with others who are hurting, and cross a few bridges for our hearts to heal.”

That’s just one of my takeaways from Leave Me by Gayle Forman. For more of my thoughts, go here to read the rest of my review, which was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (10/9/2016). 





Sunday Salon/Currently … October Surprises

Sunday Salon banner

So much to tell you this week.  First and foremost, though, my thoughts are with all who are being affected by Hurricane Matthew and his aftermath. I know several of our friends and family had some stressful days this week and others are still dealing with the storms. And Haiti–my God, what a heartbreaking situation.

Speaking of storms, I can’t even with the political storm surrounding Donald Trump’s 2005 commentary about being able to grope any woman he pleases because he’s “a star.” Why anyone is shocked by this is beyond me, because all one needs to do is reference any of his rants on women (or anyone else, frankly) to know this is the Republican nominee’s true colors. I’d considered writing a post about such, but you probably have a pretty good idea of my thoughts on the matter. If not, they’re summed up pretty succinctly by the “You’re So Vain” video by the Patriotic Artists and Creatives PAC, which marks the first time ever that the incomparable Carly Simon allowed “You’re So Vain” to be used for political purposes. It’s perfect.

And in the poetry realm, Pittsburgh poet Jeff Oaks (who I was honored to read with at Acquired Taste) pens “The God Abandons Donald Trump: a dream”.  (“Now the smoke of sharpening scythes clings to your ties; the voices of the women you thought you’d smothered in gold are rematerializing.“) A great poem.


YA author panel of Caleb Roehrig, Emma Mills, Anna Banks and Marissa Meyer being interviewed by Julie Hakim Azzam. October 4, 2016, Pittsburgh, PA. Photo taken by me.

We missed most of the Vice Presidential debates this week (Good God, was that just this week?) because we were at the Fall 2016 Fierce Reads Tour featuring YA authors Marissa Meyer, Anna Banks, Caleb Roehrig, and Emma Mills.  The Girl loves Marissa Meyer’s books, so she was the main attraction for us, but all of the authors were incredibly funny and entertaining. We especially enjoyed Caleb Roehrig, who we talked with after the event. His first novel Last Seen Leaving was published that same day and I started reading it while in line to get our books signed. I can already tell it is one I’m likely to enjoy.

the-literary-others-an-lgbt-reading-event-oct-2016There’s an LGBTQ storyline in Last Seen Leaving, which makes it a fitting edition to The Literary Others.  I’m participating in this LGBT Reading Event which is being hosted by Adam of Roof Beam Reader in honor of LGBT History Month. This week I read I’ll Give You Something to Cry About, a novella by Jennifer Finney Boylan about a family on a road trip trying to find their place in each other’s lives and the world. I loved this story, just as I loved her memoir I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted about living in a haunted house (on Philadelphia’s Main Line!) and her journey as a transgendered person.

I’m currently reading Just Kids by Patti Smith (we’re doing an event at work with Patti tomorrow night, and I’m really hoping to finish this in time) and in the car, I’m listening to The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle by Lillian Faderman.


Writing … 
So grateful to my friend Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan, also a Pittsburgh blogger, who mentions my very short Halloween story “Extractions” in her post “Writers in Pittsburgh Are Going to Be Busy.”  This came as quite the surprise, especially since the Google Alert I have on every version of my name didn’t pick it up. Thank you, Elizabeth!


Another surprise was discovering that my review of Judy Blume’s In the Likely Event was blurbed (with my name!) in the paperback edition!  I can’t believe it. This was a review I’d published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in June 2015, and I had no idea about this until The Girl showed me last night. Crazy!


OK, time for a little reading before making the popcorn for tonight’s presidential debate and whatever surprises await us then.


In the Unlikely Event You Meet Judy Blume (Yes, THE Judy Blume) and Have No Clue You’ve Been Blurbed in Her Book

The Girl:  “Mom, did you know you’re quoted in the new Judy Blume book?”

This announcement greets me as I’m preparing dinner, as I tend to do.

“Um … excuse me, what, sweetie?”

She holds out the paperback version of In the Unlikely Event and there it is.


(As a friend pointed out, my blurb has MY NAME where all the others just list the publication. My name … in Judy Blume’s book!)

Here’s the best part about this.  Obviously, I read an ARC (advanced reader’s copy) of this one and wrote my review (from whence this blurb came) for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in June 2015.

judy-blume-paperback-of-in-the-unlikely-eventFast forward a year. This summer, Judy Blume visited Pittsburgh on her tour promoting the paperback edition. Of course The Girl and I were there, among a sold-out crowd. As part of our ticket price, we were given a copy of the book, which I had her sign. Little did I know, my review (and did I mention my name?!) was included!

Needless to say, I had no idea. I’m completely stunned. I’ve provided a blurb upon request, but to my knowledge I’ve never been blurbed like this before and certainly not in a novel by one of literature’s icons.

What an absolute thrill!