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Bluest Nude: Poems

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Finalist for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work

Ama Codjoe’s highly anticipated debut collection brings generous light to the inner dialogues of women as they bathe, create art, make and lose love. Each poem rises with the urgency of a fully awakened sensual life.

Codjoe’s poems explore how the archetype of the artist complicates the typical expectations of women: be gazed upon, be silent, be selfless, reproduce. Dialoguing with and through art, Bluest Nude considers alternative ways of holding and constructing the self. From Lorna Simpson to Gwendolyn Brooks to Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, contemporary and ancestral artists populate Bluest Nude in a choreography of Codjoe’s making. Precise and halting, this finely wrought, riveting collection is marked by an acute rendering of highly charged emotional spaces.

Purposefully shifting between the role of artist and subject, seer and seen, Codjoe’s poems ask what the act of looking does to a person—public looking, private looking, and that most intimate, singular spectacle of looking at one’s self. What does it mean to see while being seen? In poems that illuminate the tension between the possibilities of openness and and its impediments, Bluest Nude offers vulnerability as a medium to be immersed in and, ultimately, shared as a kind of power: “There are as many walls inside me / as there are bones at the bottom of the sea,” Codjoe writes in the masterful titular poem. “I want to be seen clearly or not at all.”

“The end of the world has ended,” Codjoe’s speaker announces, “and desire is still / all I crave.”

Startling and seductive in equal measure, this formally ambitious collection represents a powerful, luminous beginning.

ISBN-13: 9781571315427

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Milkweed Editions

Publication Date: 09-13-2022

Pages: 120

Product Dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

Ama Codjoe is the author of Bluest Nude. She is also the author of Blood of the Air, winner of the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize. Her honors include a 2017 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship, and a Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship. Codjoe’s work has twice appeared in The Best American Poetry. She lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Blueprint

As I lay on the prickly grass, grasshoppers chattered

in my hair. I stroked the ground like a beard. No one

sang. The whole sky was watching. It’s animal

piss in the dye pot that makes indigo blue. Blue

seeped out of me, but I wanted to forge it myself.

I was obsessed with making. The yellow leaves

browned; the sugar pine needles refused

to shed. I couldn’t get the pigment right, it kept turning

to mud. I had attempted this before, making wine

from another’s body, stamping and stomping

my grape-stained feet. When I rose, I left the print

of a woman behind. I noticed the pear tree, how it gave

without question; I asked anyway, was asking

again, collecting broken seashells and tiny

elephant figurines. I needed a herd of blue.

I soaked black beans for the color they left. My blue

was a habit, a kind of river I stepped into—sometimes

crossed—because it held the sky so perfectly.

I swung the axe. I swam with my arms.

I hammered nails—though crookedly. Timber

was my sacrum, timber were my metatarsals,

timber was my lungs’ pink flesh, timber was my skull.

I was a blueprint, blue on blue, mapless

but for those warm bones and my red heart barking.

—And when I turned without making my skirt

a basket, when I turned from all the fallen

pears, the sky was full of shaking: wet

with river-water. It wasn’t rain that fell—whatever it was

I collected in the cups of my hands.

On Seeing and Being Seen

I don’t like being photographed. When we kissed

at a wedding, the night grew long and luminous.

You unhooked my bra. A photograph

passes for proof, Sontag says, that a given thing

has happened. Or you leaned back to watch

as I eased the straps from my shoulders.

Hooks and eyes. Right now, my breasts

are too tender to be touched. Their breasts

were horrifying, Elizabeth Bishop writes. Tell her

someone wanted to touch them. I am touching

the photograph of my last seduction. It is as slick

as a magazine page, as dark as a street

darkened by rain. When I want to remember

something beautiful, instead of taking

a photograph, I close my eyes.

I watched as you covered my nipple

with your mouth. Desire made you

beautiful. I closed my eyes.

Tonight, I am alone in my tenderness.

There is nothing in my hand except a certain

grasping. In my mind’s eye, I am

stroking your hair with damp fingertips. This is exactly

how it happened. On the lit-up hotel bed,

I remember thinking, My body is a lens

I can look through with my mind.

Poem After Betye Saar’s The Liberation of Aunt Jemima

What if, Betye, instead of a rifle or hand

grenade—I mean, what if after

the loaded gun that takes two hands

to fire, I lay down the splintered broom

and the steel so cold it wets

my cheek? What if I unclench the valleys

of my fist, and lay down

the wailing baby?

Gonna burn the moon in a cast iron skillet.

Gonna climb the men who, when they see my face, turn into stony mountains.

Gonna get out of the kitchen.

Gonna try on my nakedness like a silk kimono.

Gonna find me a lover who eats nothing but pussy.

Let the whites of my eyes roll, roll.

Gonna clench my toes.

Gonna purr beneath my own hand.

Gonna take down my hair.

Try on a crown of crow feathers.

Gonna roam the wide aisles of the peach grove, light dripping off branches like syrup, leaves brushing the fuzz on my arms.

—You dig?—

Gonna let the juice trickle down my chin.

Gonna smear the sun like war paint across my chest.

Gonna shimmy into a pair of royal blue bell-bottoms.

Gonna trample the far-out thunderclouds, heavy in their lightness.

Watch them slink away.

Gonna grimace. Gonna grin.

Gonna lay down my sword.

Pick up the delicate eggs of my fists.

Gonna jab the face that hovered over mine.

It’s easy to find the lips, surrounded as they are in minstrel black.

Gonna bloody the head of every god, ghost, or swan who has torn into me—pried me open with its beak.

Gonna catch my breath in a hunting trap.

Gonna lean against the ropes.

Gonna break the nose of mythology.

—Goodnight John-Boy—

Gonna ice my hands in April’s stream.

Gonna scowl and scream and shepherd my hollering into a green pasture.

Gonna mend my annihilations into a white picket fence.

Gonna whip a tornado with my scarlet handkerchief.

Spin myself dizzy as a purple-lipped drunkard.

Gonna lay down, by the riverside, sticky and braless in the golden sand.

Aint gonna study war no more.

Aint gonna study war no more.

Table of Contents

I.

Blueprint

On Seeing and Being Seen

Two Girls Bathing

Marigolds of Fire

Labor

Poem After Betye Saar’s The Liberation of Aunt Jemima

Diamondback

“After the __________, I yearned to be reckless. To smash”

Detail from “Poem After Betye Saar’s The Liberation of Aunt Jemima

Primordial Mirror

Le Sacre du printemps

“After the __________, I had the urge to dance”

II.

She Said

III.

Posing Nude

Burying Seeds

At the Fish House

Why I Left the Garden

“After the __________, I mothered my mother”

Facing Off

“After the __________, time turned like a mood ring.”

Resembling Flowers Resembling Weeds

Of Being in Motion

“After the laughter subsided the crying kept after we held hands”

Heaven as Olympic Spa

IV.

Bluest Nude

Bathers with a Turtle

Slow Drag with Branches of Pine

Lotioning My Mother’s Back

Aubade

A Family Woven Like Night through Trees

Etymology of a Mood

Poem After an Iteration of a Painting by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Destroyed by the Artist Herself

Head on Ice #5

After a Year of Forgetting

“There is a scar near my right eye no lover ever noticed”

Notes