Backlist Bulletin #9: Hair by Amy Narneeloop

Diving into Amy Narneeloop’s Hair was a burrowing of my body into the page. The chapbook, a collection of poems entitled “Breasts,” “Shame,” “Hair,” and “Dust,” discusses the relationship of the self to the body.

In the first section “Breasts,” Narneeloop writes: “There was someone in my life who told me that everything I was I wasn’t, and everything I wasn’t I was, and everything I could be I couldn’t, and so forth” (p. 4). The idea of others deciding the meaning and making of one’s own body stuck with me from this moment on. I found the way that Narneeloop navigates the reclamation of agency in the self particularly compelling. In a journey not unlike the acceptance of one’s own hair, this work illuminates a path to understanding the place we occupy in our bodies.

Before reading, I had yet to consider shame as part of the body. But after reflecting on my experience as a Black woman, I appreciated the connections Narneeloop introduced in the following section “Shame.” On page 5, she discusses how shame is gravity: “I’m on the one side, and I wild out, I go too far, sicken into it, and then tip back and it’s everyone else’s fault again.” Marking shame as a site in the body — one that we all contribute to — felt all too familiar for me; such feelings developed for me during similar life stages that this work touches on. During my adolescent years, shame developed within me when I ran into the realization that my body was not my own, but something separate from me. It developed as I grew into a young adult with expectations from outside influences on what my “grown up” body should feel and look like. Shame also, much like the following section “Hair” illustrates, distinctly manifested in my own journey of acceptance with my hair.

In different passages of “Hair”, Narneeloop engaged me with simultaneous humor and sadness as she writes about the ways her hair has transformed in ways that she often couldn’t control. Then there’s a sense of triumph as she gets to a healthier state after run-ins with doctors and miscalculated medications. Intertwined with these incidents, she writes about her mother being the former caretaker for her hair.

“All Black people can spot a mixed child with a white mother. The pathetic hair gives us away. It didn’t help that my mother was raised by a woman with a broken heart. To keep my mother safe, her own mother never told her she was beautiful. She didn’t want my mother to get the wrong impression and feel her viscera fall out when she learned from the world what real beauty was. I come from a long line of emptiness.”
(p. 9)

This particular section spoke to me — especially as it shares the same title of the encompassing work. As I thought about its relation to the chapbook’s title, I felt that this poem exemplified how the body can also speak to trauma. “Hair” is a great summation for what the whole work hopes to conclude: that our bodies, with all of their accompanying changes, are a sign and celebration of our existence.

In the final section, “Dust,” I came to understand this body survey as more of a cycle; that Narneeloop might pose that we are living because the body is in a constant state of flux, one that we should embrace. “Dust is eighty percent skin. So it’s skin. We’re breathing skin,” she writes (p. 14). With our fluctuating states in mind, the body is more like a cyclical collective experience than a private state of being. It’s where our dust bunnies collect under each other’s couches, and we forget what was left behind.

Hair gave me the space to reflect on my relationship to my body as my 26-year-old self in a way that I probably haven’t given thought to previously. I enjoyed the work as an act of keeping a record of self; being present in multiple forms across time.

—Bria Strothers

The backlist bulletin is a column on titles from UDP’s back catalogue, curated and written by Apprentices.



Ugly Duckling Presse is a nonprofit publisher for poetry, translation, experimental nonfiction, performance texts, and books by artists.

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UDP is a nonprofit publisher for poetry, translation, experimental nonfiction, performance texts, and books by artists.