You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened by Arisa White, reviewed by Clara B. Jones

You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened
Arisa White
Augury Books (NYC)
96 pp
Paper, $16
ISBN: 9780988735576

More than 20 years ago, the artist, Andrea Fraser, suggested that works by women don’t have staying power because women are generally marginalized or incorporated—remaining invisible. Reviewing artistic work by women, then, may be seen as a recovery project to highlight women’s practices that may, otherwise, be overlooked or ignored. In a patriarchy, females are objects, men, subjects, and men speak for women, creating a particularly challenging landscape for women expressing themselves via the spoken or written word (language). One of the pleasures attendant to reviewing books of poetry written by young, female, women of color (e.g., C.M. Burroughs, Francine J. Harris) is reading work with “interpretive power” (Helen Vendler) worthy of being taken seriously by other poets—men and women alike—and worthy of persistence over the long haul. I have been impressed with the degree to which many early-career writers of color, and, many young poets in general, are successfully expanding the strictures of Formalism by integrating form, language, and function.

I read Arisa White’s, You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened (hereafter, YTMBTTH), after reading an essay on feminism and postmodernism by Craig Owens who quoted Fredric Jameson—“…it suddenly became clear that ‘D.H. Lawrence’ was not an absolute after all [a male spokesman about women], not the final achieved figuration of the truth of the world, but only one art-language among others, only one shelf of works in a whole dizzying library.” Young female writers of color, and other female writers, especially, feminists, have taken their place in the “dizzying library” of non-patriarchal forms and, like Harryette Mullen before them, have taken their place among postmodern poets disrupting the status quo by writing, as Owens put it, in opposition to “Western man’s self-appointed mission of transforming the entire planet in his own image.” Contrary to most male writers, most female writers, especially feminist authors, have boldly chosen to address comfort; personal narratives and personal relationships; egalitarian associations rather than ones based on power differentials; emotions and feelings; language as authentic communication rather than abstraction and symbolism; and, a holistic and an organic view of the world.

White’s book exhibits the foregoing characteristics, as well as, being an ambitious and intimate map of one woman’s experiences as a female citizen of the world. Based on an e-mail interview, White stated, “I identify as a feminist poet in the same ways I identify as a black, queer/lesbian poet—these are identities I stand in and write from and out of. These are social locations that help me examine our political and cultural institutions and systems of thought. They are lenses and sites for feeling and knowledge. In many ways, all these things work together to help me nuance the world around me, give language to particular experiences. I am feminist because I care about the political parity of women/females, and I believe this sexist oppression is the root of all oppression.” In YTMBTTH, White addresses themes both subjectively and universally, including, childhood, loss, love, and chaos in lyric-like poems demonstrating a respect for form, function, and, especially, language (“There are little words,/that can fit in little places,/if you say them small enough.”; “She is pretty and perfect in sleep before language must be assigned—“; “When your friends are around, your hands language/near her to confirm she’s close:…”).

White’s poems are decidedly not derivative; however, their cryptic use of language and meaning remind me of Meghan Sterling’s autobiographical and understated, yet strong, poems about female issues relevant to anyone concerned with a humanistic interpretation of life and living. White’s poems invite the reader into her interior space without being didactic or literal (“Men, when they do, cross their legs in the way of academics./Never in the way of churchwomen who keep the secret/covered—there’s nothing to be implored, explored, discovered./In the way of academics, the whole body thinks….”). White’s lyricism often takes the form of homages, usually, to lovers (“Sounds the body/makes to keep quiet/while I take/your camisole down:/purple. Our sable bodies/an inappropriate math/in one stall.”). The author deftly addresses intense issues (HIV, sex, self-concept) without losing control of her emotions or language or focus or material. At the same time, her poetics and style communicate the limitations of language for exposing the full range of experience (Post-modernism), indicated, in part, by her frequent use of nonsense words, repetition (“…There’s no going back from raw. New story/you, mezzo and wood bending. My love, you’re the/darling dang—true-dat, true-dat, true—dat-dat-dat.”), as well as, avant garde conformations (see, especially, and, notably, the poem, “Four Square,” on page 71).

Other themes that struck me as I read YTMBTTH were references to West Indian/Caribbean culture (see poem, “Auntie,” on page 17), and British (colonial?) habits (“I prefer my tea with sugar/when I talk to you. You make/each minute an island where we,/crowned and carpeted by green,/sip Dragon Well from our palms.”). And, then, there is the matter of race—usually present but rarely explicit (however, see the poems, “Who Invited The Monkey To Omen’s Party,” on page 16, and “Drag Up…dedicated to the white people who were asked to raise their hands if they would choose to be black,” on page 18). Via e-mail, White shared, after reading one of my essays, “The essay has me thinking about what it would mean for me to write directly about race, how does it feel creatively within? Immediately, I thinkfeel [sic] about being in an ‘interracial’ marriage, which is more so an intersectional state of being (race, gender, sexuality, class) than a singular way of identifying. I think the pressure is how to write from these intersections/interstices. . . using polarities to make a third thing, to create a lens for seeing what the opposites map out. If black and white are said to be my points of reference, what is the gray communicating in relationship to the blue-black?”

The “intersectional” is postmodern, indeed. Since the 1970s, approximately, identity has become a fluid, personal narrative. My essay, referred to in the previous paragraph, argued that many early-career poets of color, male and female, LGBTQI and hetero-normative, are defining race-gender-class on their own terms rather than writing about race explicitly, directly, or literally. Many of these poets are writing, following Emily Dickinson, “slant.” By her account, some of White’s major influences are Saul Williams, Carl Hancock Rux, Erykah Badu, Toni Morrison, Patricia Smith, Rebecca Seiferle, Pat Parker, Audre Lorde, Hart Crane, Medbh McGuckian, Harryette Mullen, Tyehimba Jess, and Ross Gay—artists who challenge Modernism’s meta-narratives, crafting individual voices and impulses derived from their personal experiences, interpretations, and perceptions. White’s next project is in this tradition, “a craft talk about my queer imaginary [that will] unpack the queer imaginary that informs my work, examining the way my lesbian aunt and her friends languaged [sic] themselves in the world and how that became a model for how I create a poem.” My advice to the reader of this review is—Do not wait for her future projects in order to savor Arisa White’s compelling work. Each of the poems in You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened is necessary, deserving a wide audience, and, with this collection, the author has made a valuable contribution to the literary community.



“Other people’s comfort keeps me up at night”¹ by Clara B. Jones

I Art a life
of ham-hocks and cornbread.

I Art Pope.L
and Côte d’Azure.

I Art Brooklyn
near Junior’s®.

I Art on the backs of slaves
and the fields of Appomattox.

I Art Phyllis Wheatley
and global warming.

I Art Newark’s ecosystem
and Chicago’s coral reef.

I Art high fashion
and blue eyes.

I Art Armani®
at Paris Fashion Week.

I Art Lobster Thermidor
and Walmart®.

I Art Billie Holiday
and hedge funds.

Trump Arts himself
and he is Arting.


¹Morgan Parker (2015)


Clara B. Jones is a retired scientist, currently practicing poetry in Silver Spring, MD (USA). As a woman of color, she writes about the “performance” of identity & power & conducts research on experimental poetry & radical publishing. Clara is author of three chapbooks, & her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous venues.

Poem In 10 Parts by Clara B. Jones

  1. Stay Informed & Up To Date


Law and Order® is his favorite show because the criminals are always white like in Appalachia not in Chicago where brothers want to be like 50 Cent® but don’t make the grade…he’s good but not the best in rap history because Trump dreams of a night out with Putin in Las Vegas…let’s help the women in our lives but Milania probably won’t donate to Planned Parenthood® if she has another son to keep Trump in New York…he’s a man with a plan & Marla said it was the best she ever had though Ivana said he was her first so she had no comparison…he has such good hands—goes out—does it—it works…hired a tech genius who bought Ram® trucks that put Trump in attack mode when he got involved in the mistakes that were made…Old Spice® started aesthetic revolutions but Trump forgot to send a thank you card to his professor for starting a complimentary subscription last Tuesday & buying Wendy’s® nuggets for an extra discount.



  1. Stay Away From Cyberbullies


Martin King knew Jay Z’s® father Reeves & they flew to a Dolly Parton concert in Nashville where she introduced Martin as her favorite evangelist before he introduced Reeves as his road manager—turning to Dolly’s band to give them a thumb’s up & the drummer Don Francisco waved a Cuban flag in Martin’s direction shouting Viva Fidel! before Dolly said Ignore him, he’s crazy but he’s a good drummer…Reeves asked Dolly if she knew Aretha & Dolly said they don’t run in the same circles though she once met Gladys Knight at a party…Dolly asked Martin to sing “Hard Candy Christmas” for poor kids in Appalachia & Martin said I’d be honored to Miss Dolly!…Reeves whispered Give her what she wants! since the law has to evolve with technology & it’s legal to maximize profits where media is the most important thing.



  1. Sorry, I Made A Mistake


Brooklyn is not that far away but don’t lose the profits I’ve already made…Castro is a relative who Trump hasn’t met so he’s flying to Cuba next week…what a deal—shop now—stay close to your phone though it won’t work down there…for five years I’ve trusted Trump but this won’t last forever…he is always looking for something but never finds it…X is a function of hedge funds & I regret that but Cheetos® are the best chips in New York…Queens is Trump’s home though he wants to try something else so lets set him up [What is he thinking? Does he like me? Take care of Trump—OK? I’m telling you he’s a good father!] I could operate the Tech Center & a company could fix Trump’s apps though Smart Phones are a substitute for sex & that’s a plus but all he cares about is Tic Tacs®…Trump has Imposter Syndrome but has no power in the Psych Unit & doesn’t want us to be friends if I can’t promise miracles since losing makes him sick & changes his daily routine…the monsterkeet is a flightless bird so the oil painting is Trump’s since the art is grotesque though his fortune cookie said Losing is better than winning…North Brooklyn is the murder capital of New York where all know the way though Trump suffers from a decentered self.



  1. Neanderthal


King’s movement had no impact after the 80s when Neo-liberals took over the cultural scene that might have been social experiments…the half-life of #BlackLivesMatter is shrinking—fractured by psyches changed by the rise of® so that I am no longer African-identified—knowing that of my many parts Africa isn’t the whole since the whole is greater than its parts…20% of my friend’s genome is hybrid & she is Neanderthal-identified—emigrating to Europe to live in the Motherland…my partner is Muslim-identified because she wears hijab since her parents in Nebraska cut her out of their will…my therapist is German-identified because she read Das Kapital—now basing her practice on Marx not Freud…I asked her whether Race is a social construct & she said No it is a personal narrative.



  1. Melania’s cat was stolen…


…though she is a native informant who switched from white to colored after her cat was stolen by Jamal who studies math at Phoenix U where his online teacher told him he can write his own ticket…Melania’s cat slept on her chest & purred unless he drank hemp milk after nine & lay on the couch licking the Barbie® doll wearing the dress Melania sewed from her black leggings that were always too tight after she washed them in hot water…the dress was easier to make than the lace shirt she sewed for Ken® before her cat bit his left leg off…Jamal bought Melania two slices of pizza & she ate them after dumping the cheese since she is a vegan who likes pepperoni more than any other topping though her cat likes extra anchovies…Melania was never good at math so she majored in Gender Studies but the only job she found was at the clinic where black girls go for free formula & to see their friends once a week…Jamal asked her to have his baby but she wants to wait until he graduates though she quit her job & learned to make soy cheese pizza that tastes better than no cheese at all…Melania still eats pepperoni since—as Jamal says—Everything in moderation.



  1. Ecosystems In Crisis


Breath is humid since everything depends on hydrogen & oxygen not on L=o=v=e—simple as the Linnaean system—brown Bothrops striking a leg waiting in the wet tropics while guerillas on Osa were riding bareback shooting endangered monkeys & a little girl in Ithaca picked white trilliums almost extinct in Tompkins County woodlands…when women make mistakes they are ostracized by Japanese law & today’s breakfast is poached eggs on seaweed with sea urchin sauce on the side or two croissants with Gruyère & arugala jam & as much green tea to please an addict—adding cream or soy milk—vegans putting dairies out of business…once a man had his way with me like my mother wanted to do me in all my private places & bat caves are dark & wet—guano on earth smelling of mold & dung…stagnant water mixing with flesh of dead carp & too much oxygen in the lake not too far from that café where you smiled at me—closing your laptop as I looked plaintively at Edmund who found you beautiful while I considered you moderately pleasing—a male cardinal subordinate to a macaw in flight above a population of epiphytes—mutualists of every legume in the forest.



  1. Habits Of Modern Billionaires


The new Acadia® has arrived¹ to shift gears from a chef’s inspired recipe for adults after a late night of drinking with a hedge fund trader living in Trump’s car under the Brooklyn Bridge with a stray cat named Sven…the simple fact is that Trump has power over the fabric designer who covered his chair in green chenille which his sister liked though he preferred Scottish plaid that reminded him of Brexit as he was flying to Stockholm where he treated a patient with social distress who needed Valium® to eat soy burgers without fear brought on by kitchen trauma caused by flat soufflés…food is medicine & cold tomato soup is sold in every Stockholm pharmacy except on Sundays when devout housewives order sour cream & quail eggs with squash or kale…Swedes have low cholesterol since fish is never fried in copper pans with lard so simple decisions save lives & technology proves that health is in the details if Trump shops at a pharmacy without calling first.


¹General Motors®



  1. Trump’s Utopia


Trump bought a pair of headphones so he could live in a bubble since people are annoying & noise makes him nervous…a girl at work won’t stop talking but he’s sure he’s not missing anything he needs to know—like how to fight rebels if the skinheads in Leister invade Asheville…everyone figures Trump is Irish-American but® showed his great-grandmother was Kenyan so now he is African-identified & moving to Nairobi but Ivanka said Dad you are crazy to think you’ll find work there without a British accent!…she is supportive but wants him to read Henry James to learn how expatriates adjust…Ivanka studied Counseling at NYU & told Trump he suffers from delusions of grandeur but she relaxed when he promised to talk to someone at the mental health clinic near Koobi Fora…he went to Kenya’s embassy to apply for a visa & the clerk asked him his race before he said I am a proud African-American returning to my Motherland—so she stamped his passport & said Welcome home Mr. Trump!



  1. Let’s Get A Drink Or Something


If negroes lose their benefits they won’t assimilate but like the rest of us the Atlantic Passage was a moment in History…if I had Trump’s speed the Kenmore® washer would make colors last & I could trace the origin of his calls because in the scheme of global warming how salient is Ferguson?…there’s a range of plans to choose from & nobody sells more than Trump since low-interest financing buys soy espresso…keep watching all day in order to trace those calls but Trump never gets back to me so it wasn’t my decision to make…all Trump is concerned about is not getting caught & in principle he is legally justified…there’s something going on if the scene is a power code & Trump loses his case in court because he shops at Walmart®…a basic oil change is 30% off & I need to deploy ten chances to win though Trump didn’t show up to deal because I didn’t call ahead…he has paprika-colored socks so brown rodents will arrive in twelve hours if the Property Manager keeps watch all day with sci-tech & the blurred distinction between life & art shows that perception disrupts the way Trump sees the world.



  1. The Unknown Notebooks¹


Basquiat wasn’t the only one distinctly different from his contemporaries because art-historical status made it into the galleries—Crash—Daze—Lady Pink—Futura 2000—muralists with all-over designs as major elements…Basquiat was however—as SAMO—artfully executed but nevertheless intended to convey poetry…eight of his notebooks display the Brooklyn Museum crowded with entries from 1980 to 1981 when Basquiat was writing & painting on walls—playing with his band Gray—making color-Xerox postcards which he announced to the art world…it was not entirely clear to him what painting was dated 1981-1984 1983 & 1985 from a year before his death at 27…in 1992 Rene Ricard wrote— artistic maturity would have manifested a poet… Basquiat was a poet…




…you can hear the Black Arts Movement & the stabbing rhythm from his writing on walls to his paintings before they are anything else…Fred Brathwaite—a.k.a. Fab 5 Freddy®—said You can hear Jean-Michel…




…the notebooks sound like fragments of scenarios of “routines” like William S. Burroughs—constantly sounding like Burroughs—the notebooks faithful artifacts of nothing as much as my own notebooks…

Basquiat was an avid autodidact—picking up music everywhere he went—sometimes immediately from girlfriends’ schoolbooks from packages from the streets & the skeleton of “Moby-Dick” that Basquiat makes his own…like a poet his notebooks consisted of a single tag so the words are sketched…

the letters are shapely on the page the addresses & phone numbers are scrawled…Basquiat was a poet by instinct…in Edo Bertoglio’s film “Downtown 81” he writes in the distance to form a powerful poetic image perfectly formed with its partners precisely in the wall…the poetry as it is would break down for the paintings replaced with words…these are for ambiguity to see words at play like signs on visual rhythm with verbal percussion…the words form a vast inventory & complex matters—as in 1983 from Africa to slave ship as a kind of riot addressed in rebus-like structures…his laboratory of overall gestalt from the same world of sound.


¹Found in T Magazine, 8 March 2015


Bio: Clara B. Jones is a retired scientist, currently practicing poetry in Silver Spring, MD (USA). As a woman of color, Clara writes about the “performance” of identity, alienation, and power and conducts research on experimental poetry. Her poems, reviews, essays, and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous venues. Clara’s collection, Ferguson And Other Satirical Poems About Race, won the 2015 Bitchin’ Kitsch Chapbook Competition, and Autopsy, her chapbook of exploratory poems, was published in April 2016 by Gauss PDF.

Poem in 7 Parts by Clara B. Jones

  1. Negress


Maybe it’s easier to name a racist in post-structural space.

Baraka manifested metaphors rather than bodies in copula

And Michel mimicked narratives of power

In salons where stick figures watched from chandeliers.

That’s what happens to marginal systems and rugged landscapes

Where all matter begins or ends with a poor prognosis

Like Christmas lights beginning to flicker

or nylon stockings ripped by a cat’s claws.

Skin isn’t polychromatic just because we want our love to last

But your father reminded you what a negress is for

And you said, Don’t take it so seriously before telling me—

We can’t have a baby though Elliot is a good name for a boy

and I always wanted a daughter named Merida.

Prescribing psychoanalysis Freud said women are no substitute for men

when trauma and sex converge

And the Ego is sublimated by interior monologue

Otherwise I would stand in the way of your full potential

And who would want that except someone in a colonized tribe?


  1. Infant


My femur is shaped like a double-helix

Reminding me that I am related to gibbons

And that our family tree has more than two hundred branches

Not as many as that Inga you showed me growing near the foot of Arenal

Like a brown flower in wet season invaded by toucans and termites

A miniature community dominated by benign epiphytes—

matte green and camouflage yellow

The color of my skin descending onto Juan Santamaria’s tarmac

Oily like my hair after days without soap

Bubbles fragile as a crystal flute holding cold champagne

Celebrating the baby tapir foraging in our forest

Whose canopy is shuddered by Guanacaste winds

as I shuddered

Startled by the Bothrops about to strike—

striking the infant for fear she would leave me

Closer to Stonehenge than Talamancas or Bribri

Mothers carrying infants to the priest from Cartago

carrying wafers and juice for blessings he once believed in

Before his manhood spread throughout the mountains

Echoing the names of children he would never know.



  1. Chimeras


Chimeras doubling like twins in the midst of meiosis

Developing while negro women fought on the corner of Georgia Avenue

After their lover pranced around them unsteady on his feet

Neighing words like babies’ babblings boistrous as dawn robins

Or trains emerging from tunnels hanging on rails routed to Brooklyn

Where Prospect Park was renovated, subjected to trash removal

Like dust removed from crown moldings in the great hall

Medieval relics mingling with German artifacts

gold coins from Frankfurt

once traded by the Büddenbrooks for a twelve-year-old Kongo princess

trained for household duties

and for shopping in the marketplace

Where fresh hams and black bread were bought for lunch.

Germany is the natal nation-state

Where families have tilled the same plots for six-hundred years

Though short-term memory decays after seven seconds

And anyone in Brooklyn can drive to Jersey in an hour.

Spring arrived early so the house smelled of lilacs in February

The grape arbor fulgent with fruit tempting her to eat

But she had walked two blocks to borrow a cup of sugar for peach jam

Ruing sunny days turning strawberries from white to red—

Naked in the field, she lay on the warmest mound praying for snow.


  1. Bell Curve


It was more than a trivial exercise to compose a one-word poem

Existing as an exclamation

Asking to be recognized for what it was on its own terms

Ruing all the other words missing the final cut.

Oleander was discarded, and, hypothesis

both more musical than theory

The word now standing alone amid original morphemes

destined for elimination.

I have a theory that my appointment will be canceled

Because my doctor doesn’t want to give me bad news

Knowing I prefer to choose the safest of all bad options.

Being bit by a Bothrops is no better or worse than being bit by a cobra

But being bit by a coral snake is worse than being bit by its mimic.

All knowledge is theoretical

Though there is always a margin of error of greater or lesser magnitude

When the landscape is vast and multispatial

And dimensions map weakly on a flat plane made of ice

not lava

Around Arenal’s rim banked by snow.

Everything depends on national narratives

And the serialization of codes reducing many to few.


  1. Whales are disappearing from the Sea Of Japan


Why did Peggy’s brother blow his head off after throwing a turkey across the room

Since Thanksgiving is the hopeful holiday

before winter snows laminate the air

And Santa Claus brings me Barbie Dolls dressed like reindeer?

My skin turned xanthous eating Charlotte Russe with buttered toast

And cockatoos waited for cockcrow’s soft light instantiating the children.

Madam Butterfly was so sad that I left my cat outside with lonely pets

before they were rescued by a bored Japanese fisherman

collecting stray animals that liked bluefin tuna.

A factory in Aichi cans threatened fish

Selling boatloads to royalty eating it on soda crackers topped with curd

Before PETA charged me with animal cruelty—

Believing my short girlfriend who said

She is an animal-lover who plans to live alone for the rest of her life.

I never give gifts on holidays, saving money for my yearly trip to Kanegawa

where monkeys romp on temples and harass tourists.


  1. Wait here to be seated


When Jerry jumped off the cliff out West

A birdwatcher thought the speed was too slow to cause damage.

Every day I see a blue jay around six o’clock—

time for my run up Indian Point

Where Jerry undressed for the last time, reducing friction

Before I went birdwatching

but only saw bats echolocating fireflies

toxic to neurotics and cellists.

My daughter asked me for the secret to success

So I said Learn to suffer humiliation by exposing all your weaknesses

before showing anyone your strengths.

Yesterday, I came home to see

A blonde woman standing on my porch

holding a drawing of Imelda Marcos

Which I saw clearly through my opera glasses.

Even though my door is unlocked

I use my key to enter the house in case someone is watching

Since every moment counts when you fear your own neighborhood.


  1. Biosphere 2 was funded by oil money


I heard about Michelle.

Cradling a beet at the market I thought of a chambered heart

No longer pumping life into a hand once floating across linen paper—

A scribe of momentary genius writing for everything unable to endure

or that lingered too long.

I listened to the cries of cats roaming underground

Where fish floated up from the Hudson

Silent as clouds floating above the Throgs Neck Bridge

Which she climbed looking down at foam waiting to catch her

As love had not when he fled without remorse—

every woman her own keeper.

She never knew loneliness

Whenever I sorted produce for a Spring salad

Of watercress and artichokes tossed with criminis and lemon oil

clean as mist over flowing water

keeping moss green along the banks

Where a child would search for shards of glass the color of eggplant.


Bio: Clara B. Jones is a retired scientist, currently practicing poetry in Silver Spring, MD (USA). As a woman of color, Clara writes about the “performance” of identity, alienation, and power and conducts research on experimental poetry. Her poems, reviews, essays, and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous venues. Clara’s collection, Ferguson And Other Satirical Poems About Race, won the 2015 Bitchin’ Kitsch Chapbook Competition, and Autopsy, her chapbook of exploratory poems, was published in April 2016 by Gauss PDF.