The Poet X
“I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn't that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.”
I have never felt more seen, more heard, more understood while reading a book than I did reading Elizabeth Acevedo’s debut novel, The Poet X. The book, a collection of poems in a range of styles, gives us a beautiful, intimate look into the mind of Xiomara Batista, a Dominican teen from the Bronx as she tries to navigate her own coming of age.
As much as her conservative Catholic parents, her wildly well behaved best friend and her twin brother who she fondly calls “Twin” would like to be there for her, Xiomara learns that they’re each carrying their own burdens and that, at the end of the day, her feelings, fears and experiences are too often hers to process alone.
Though Xiomara and her story are the brilliant fictional creations of Acevedo, they couldn’t possibly be more real to me. Because in so many ways, Xiomara’s story is my own and in reading her prose I was reminded of pieces of my story that I had forgotten.
I had forgotten that tingly feeling that washed over me from head to toe when my high school crush sat next to me on the bus and his thigh brush against mine. I forgot how terrifying and invigorating is was to walk down the streets of New York as a teenage girl with the body of a woman and realize every block or two that men, somehow, could only see the latter. I had forgotten the confusion that comes when your body is ogled and cat-called in half the rooms you walk through, but mocked in the rest. I had forgotten how difficult it is to learn about sex and intimacy when you grow up in a religious household that associates even the most natural curiosities with sinful shame. I had forgotten how a boy making you a playlist can send shivers down your spine. And it felt good to remember.
With every poem I read, I felt more endeared to this young woman, navigating the emotional rollercoaster that is puberty and, at the same time, I felt more connected to the girl I used to be who would have killed for a friend like her.