American Sycamore

Lisbeth White

American Sycamore is an exploration of racial identity and the natural world, rooted in the mythopoetics of wilderness and ancestry as sources of trauma, grief, wonder, and tremendous resource. In pursuit of understanding the nuances of belonging and displacement in a Black mixed-race feminine body, Lisbeth White travels through mythic, biological, and geological landscapes, attending to the body and its beautiful and terrifying questions. Her journey manifests in a poetic helix of recurring bridges, trees, myths, origins, and awakenings. From the bayou, to Belgium, to Barbados, these poems traverse global terrain while interrogating the dark past/present of America. In American Sycamore, the poet examines the Black diaspora, ancestral reparation, and the sacred feminine, inviting the reader into a deep conversation of seeking and recovery.

Bridge (they think I am Dutch)

They think I am Dutch here: another caramel-something picturesque
in this Netherlands city park amidst the weaving bicycles and willows
weeping over the duck pond.

Because eventually diaspora relocates origin? Because mixed ancestry
mixes it up everywhere? I am addressed in Dutch as much as in
English. In French. In Spanish. No one can guess how to speak to me.

If I could speak all the languages, still I would always be most afraid
I would never be able to say how it is the world moves through me. I
learn to copy the voices of others and live within their masks.

The truth is I’m nostalgic for a beingness unmarkable. A bodyscape
un-delineated. A landscape unmapped. Unmappable. Recognized
simply, by tree, by evening light, by direction of wind in grasses.

A landscape intimate with secret monikers, known only by the one
who utters the calling. Precious as it sounds when I cup my palm
before my mouth, when I speak into my hands my own name.

 

Listen to “Swamp Cypress,” read by Lisbeth White:

Listen to “Origin of Air,” read by Lisbeth White:

 

Cover image: American Sycamore
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Awards

Eric Hoffer Book Award, honorable mention

First Horizon Book Award, finalist

Housatonic Book Award, semifinalist

“Early in her book American Sycamore, made of poems as formally adventurous and probing and searching as the questions she asks, questions that might never be answered—about family, history, empire, violence, love—Lisbeth White writes, almost as a kind of prayer: ’the bones the bones know who i am.’ The bones of course are the literal bones—of who came before us, of who loved us before we were born, of who were brutalized in the uncountable, unsayable ways. The bones are also the poems she has crafted. Which is to say, what music she’s grown from the sorrow.” —Ross Gay, author of The Book of Delights
“This book with its forehead to the earth. A book of tears. A book of grief. A book of resource. How Lisbeth White listens for the messages of dirt and bones, reminding me that word is sound, breath, mark—gesture ’to make a sudden temple.’ I follow her into the gorgeous greenness of her questions—’how long can filament grow / in the memory of hands?’ and ’didn’t we live / as a forest…’—and find myself closer to my own life, reaching and reaching toward reunion.” —Aracelis Girmay, author of the black maria
“The poems in American Sycamore are talismans, and we need them for the long journey toward belonging somewhere and somehow. For White, a Black mixed-race poet, the body is a battleground for myth and action, her ’whole body / a cross-referenced wound.’ This is a book of travel and the restlessness of the human spirit to incorporate an inheritance of competing stories. What struck me was the need in this poet to take on the daunting task of healing a legacy of slavery and racism within herself, to find the right apology for all of us. We need to sit up and take notice here. American Sycamore is a fine book.” —Amber Flora Thomas, author of Eye of Water: Poems
“Lisbeth White’s debut poetry collection, American Sycamore, holds an enchanting power with its exploration of Black/multiracial culture, ancestors, and the mythic wild around and within us — its movement from California to the Southwestern desert to Europe. It is a journey toward and from, a letting loose of identity formed without consent, and the grief of lost family, of the past, of the self. Woven throughout are trees, holding stories both personal and collective, the brutal fist of a nation bent on white violence and avoiding its racial reckoning.” —Angela María Spring, Washington Independent Review of Books
“In Lisbeth White’s remarkable debut poetry collection, American Sycamore, the theme of recognition is central. Inside oppressive and violent societal structures that wield race and gender as weapons, White’s collection asks ... what does it mean to see and be seen as a Black person, a multiracial person, as a woman, as a human? The poems enact a deep, elemental longing to be recognized both within and beyond these societal constructs. As the speaker seeks connection, she often finds it at the source: the body, the water, the earth, the trees that are also our bones.” —Tamiko Beyer, The Georgia Review
American Sycamore is a creation myth. In ’Myth, Seminal,’ the speaker renders her father the subject of this myth by equating him to Icarus. In ’Origin of Fire,’ through the lens of magical realism, White depicts the institution of slavery: ’the hands that touched torches to the chattel house were the same that came for herbs every Sunday…aunts and mothers who fled, or maybe grew wings, shapeshifted into owls…’ White ends the piece with a striking line: ’…black girl, they were more than willing to let me burn.’” —Lakshmi Sunder, “An Appointment with the Goddess: A Review,” Apogee
“Pulling these different themes of mother & child, and refugee & refuge, and element & myth, and multiplicities & the divine, and remembering & memory & grieving. And we’ve got the scholarly framing, origins, song, and sanctuary. There’s so much that’s vitally alive within the thematic threads of American Sycamore—Raina J. León, “On Reclamation, Mythopoetics & Excavating Our Collective Eco-Memory,”EcoTheo Review
“In American Sycamore, Lisbeth White juxtaposes a realm of lush sensuality against one of danger, both overt and hidden ... In this collection, she weaves together poems about Nature with ones of her lived experience as a mixed-race woman, taking solace in the evolving world around her while heeding the voices of her ancestors.” —Erica Goss, Sticks and Stones

Author photograph by Sarah Wright

Lisbeth White

Lisbeth White is a writer and ritualist currently living on unceded S’Klallam and Chimacum lands of the Coast Salish peoples. As a writer, she has received awards, fellowships, and residencies from VONA, Callaloo, Tin House, Split This Rock, Bread Loaf Environmental Writers Conference, and Blue Mountain Center. As a healer and ritualist, she has been a facilitator of community-based healing justice work utilizing arts and Earth-based practices within social justice organizations nationwide. American Sycamore is her first book. Visit her at lisbethwrites.com.

  • Watch the recording of the book launch celebration for American Sycamore held on 12/8/2022, featuring readings by Lisbeth White and special guest writers Amber Flora Thomas and Tamiko Beyer.
  • Watch the “Readings & Roots: Perugia Poets on Poetic Process” video featuring Lisbeth White reading and discussing her poem “Awakening of Stones: Results” from American Sycamore.
  • Lisbeth was featured in the “Member Spotlight” at The Author’s Guild. An excerpt: “Writing with curiosity and desire to understand the fullness of an experience can show us so much about ourselves and what is around us. It can teach us, not just empathy, but ways to connect. And with that, we remember how to be part of the world around us.”
  • In Tamiko Beyer’s Starlight and Strategy, Lisbeth White asks, “What if I myself, and honestly most of us born into socially oppressive structures, started our lives feeling safe and beloved by the world? How might we move about in our lives, and with each other, if this was our baseline?” and offers a tender prompt to imagine what that might feel like.
  • Raina J. León is in conversation with Lisbeth White in this interview “On Reclamation, Mythopoetics, and Excavating Our Collective Eco-Memory” in EcoTheo Review. When asked about her hope for American Sycamore, White answered, “My hope is that folks read it and some part of it feels like medicine … maybe it’s just … ‘I want to talk to this ancestor who I haven’t thought of before.’ Or, ‘Maybe I feel like I want to go buy a tree.’ ”
  • Lisbeth White had a beautiful, joy-filled conversation with Nicole M. Young-Martin on Black Writers Read, a monthly web series dedicated to showcasing the words, work, and traditions of Black writers from across the country, across genres, across experiences, and across the African Diaspora. Perugia was honored to collaborate on this episode, which you can watch on YouTube, or listen to the podcast on your favorite streaming platform.
  • Watch Perugia poets Lisbeth White, Carolina Hotchandani, and Rebecca Pelky read in the “Phosphorescence Poetry Reading Series” for the Emily Dickinson Museum.
  • Listen in to Lisbeth White’s conversation with Ann Wallace on the podcast “WildStory: A Podcast of Poetry & Plants” about “how ancestry, myth, and stories are contained within the American landscape, reflecting on the simultaneous beauty and historic violence evoked and held within the trees and waterways of this nation, and how ritual might help restore connection to the land.”
  • Read Lisbeth White’s “Poet’s Platform” feature on Perugia’s blog, about the resource she co-edited with Tamiko Beyer and Destiny Hemphill, Poetry as Spellcasting: Poems, Essays, and Prompts for Manifesting Liberation and Reclaiming Power.

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