Please make me pretty, I don’t want to die explores tactility, sound, sensuality, and intimacy. Set across the four seasons of a year, these fresh and original poems by Tawanda Mulalu combine an inviting confessional voice and offbeat imagery, and offer an appealing mixture of seriousness and humor.
The speaker of these poems probes romantic and interracial intimacy, the strangeness and difficulty of his experiences as a diasporic Black African in White America, his time working as a teacher’s assistant in a third-grade classroom, and his ambivalent admiration for canonical poets who have influenced him, especially Sylvia Plath. Juxtaposing traditional forms such as sonnets and elegies with less orthodox interjections, such as prose-poem “prayers” and other meditations, the collection presents a poetic world both familiar and jarring—one in which history, the body, and poetry can collide in a single surprising turn of image: “The stars also suffer. Immense and dead, their gasses burn / distant like castanets of antebellum teeth. My open window / a synecdoche of country.”
Awards and Recognition
- A Washington Post Best Poetry Collection of the Year
- A New York Times Best Poetry Book of the Year
- A Boston Globe Best Book of the Year
Tawanda Mulalu was born in Gaborone, Botswana, in 1997. He is the author of the chapbook Nearness, and his poems have appeared in many publications, including the Paris Review, Brittle Paper, and Lolwe. He lives in New York City.
"Incredible. . . .A stunningly good book of poems."—Elisa Gabbert, New York Times
"Tawanda Mulalu's first book is an energetic and energizing assemblage of restlessly shifting modes, juggling forms and shuffling styles. The linguistic playfulness that animates his poems conceals neither their serious intent nor their underlying melancholy."—Troy Jollimore, Washington Post
"A sensory and exciting debut. . . . These inventive, lyrical, and well-crafted poems offer memorable insights at every turn."—Publishers Weekly
"The collection’s energy is constant, and some of the poems’ most straightforward moments are the most affecting. . . . A sharp, playful, and thoughtful work for poetry lovers."—Library Journal
"These fresh and original poems by Tawanda Mulalu combine an inviting confessional voice and offbeat imagery, and offer an appealing mixture of seriousness and humor. . . . [Please make me pretty, I don’t want to die] presents a poetic world both familiar and jarring-one in which history, the body, and poetry can collide in a single surprising turn of image."—The Rumpus
"I am moved by the cool, wounded clarity of Tawanda Mulalu’s poems, and startled by their flashes of stark, irrefutable knowing. Please make me pretty, I don’t want to die is an elegy, an aria, a prayer for bodies—and a nation—and a planet—on some dire cusp."—Tracy K. Smith, 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States
“Mulalu is very much aware of his Black body and the America around him—of the shootings, all the anxieties of being ‘there,’ and the simple yet difficult task of going outside. But at the same time he has created with such clarity this incredible archive of arias, elegies, prayers, and song. These are a delight to read and to listen to, a frenzied spring of hope.”—Clifton Gachagua, author of Madman at Kilifi
“The resonant tone of dreams is never far from Tawanda Mulalu’s deliciously and wildly imaginative lines, even though this dreamer is wide awake. Everything this poet touches shows plainly a genuine strangeness, as if it had just come into existence. He discovers a new world at every turn of the street, with wit as well as wonder. In line after line, he sings.”—Cal Bedient, author of The Breathing Place