Review: Say Her Name

Title: Say Her Name
Author: Zetta Elliott
Publisher: Disney
Pages: 82
Genre: Poetry
Availability: On shelves now
Review copy: Digital ARC via Netgalley along with a purchased final copy

Say her name and solemnly vow

Never to forget, or allow

Our sisters’ lives to be erased;

Their presence cannot be replaced.

This senseless slaughter must stop now.

Award-winning author Zetta Elliott engages poets from the past two centuries to create a chorus of voices celebrating the creativity, resilience, and courage of Black women and girls. Inspired by the #SayHerName campaign launched by the African American Policy Forum, these poems pay tribute to victims of police brutality as well as the activists championing the Black Lives Matter cause. This compelling collection reveals the beauty, danger, and magic found at the intersection of race and gender.

Zetta Elliott truly created magical poetry in this powerful collection. The poem “I Make Magic” explains,

but I
make magic
with the words
in my mind
I weave syllables
into silver

and she’s not wrong. These poems are not just sitting on the page. They demand engagement.  They ask readers to feel something, to acknowledge truths, to take care of themselves, to celebrate, and to remember the names of those who are gone. Readers would be hard-pressed to ignore or be unmoved by these wonderfully crafted spellbinding messages.

For those who are leery of poetry because of bad experiences in academic settings, this book is fairly straightforward. Elliott’s poetry is never pompously obscure and in addition, she has included notes for many of the poems. At the end of the book she provides information about the inspiration for specific poems and/or clarifies  some of the references. For her poem “Black Lives Matter” she mentions the “beloved trinity.” Her notes inform readers that the poem honors the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Khan-Cullors and that the final words are from Patrisse’s memoir When They Call You a Terrorist. 

The fabulous artwork complements the words in the best way. The colors are bold, like many of the poems, yet do not distract from the text. The images and the design of the book speak to solidarity, strength, beauty, overcoming, remembrance, inspiration, affirmation and the list goes on. Many things here are also painful to witness. Names of Black women, girls, and femmes who have been victims of police or anti-black violence are included on the endpapers. There were far too many that were new to me which just emphasizes why the #SayHerName campaign is needed.

This collection will likely bring joy, pain, comfort, and many other emotions. Sometimes my heart felt raw, like with her poem about mermaids that deals with so many deaths, but she also managed to bring peace and even some healing. The collection leads readers through many emotions, but circles back and offers comfort, inspiration, and peace. The final poem is a blessing that I will be posting near my desk and will keep in my phone photo gallery. It’s a lovely parting gift. In her introduction Zetta Elliott claimed she has not thought of herself as a poet, but I would argue that she is most definitely a poet and a fantastic one at that.

Recommendation: Get it now. This poetry collection is addressed specifically to Black women and girls, but will certainly speak to the hearts and minds of anyone willing to listen. I highly recommend Say Her Name and hope to see it in the hands of many readers.

Rich in Color Interview with Zetta Elliott
Zetta shares some writing advice and activities in her book Find Your Voice: A Guide to Self-Expression