Karisma Price’s stunning debut collection is an extended meditation on Blackness, on family, on loss. Anchored in New Orleans and New York City, these poems braid personal and public histories into a cultural reckoning of past and present. James Booker speaks to Ringo Starr, a phone “Autocorrects ‘Nigga’ to Night,'” If Beale Street Could Talk is recast with characters from The Odyssey. In these pages there is grief, there is absence, there is violence—“We know that mostly everything around us / is measured in blood.”—but there is also immense love and truth. Karisma Price has created a serious masterpiece, a book “so dark you have no other option but to call it / precious.”
Karisma Price is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection "I'm Always so Serious" (Sarabande Books, 2023). Her work has appeared in Poetry, Four Way Review, Wildness, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem and New York University, was a finalist for the 2019 Manchester Poetry Prize, and awarded The 2020 J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize from The Poetry Foundation. She is from New Orleans, LA, and holds an MFA in poetry from New York University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Poetry at Tulane University.
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"[R]ich with aphorism and rhetoric. . . .Starting and ending in her native New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, spanning many generations and stories, and folding in several spiky, multi-page forms, Karisma Price turns her first book. . . into an exciting start for what might be a stellar career."
—Stephanie Burt for The New York Times Book Review
"[C]an we recommend Karisma Price’s debut collection, I’m Always so Serious? To poetry lovers her title might seem to evoke Christian Wiman’s marvelous epic Being Serious (also worth reading!), but Price is very much staking her own ground here, on Southern soil blessed and haunted by the ghosts of forebears; her book summons everyone from James Baldwin to Gwendolyn Brooks to Beyoncé. I think you’ll like it."
—Gregory Cowles for The New York Times Book Review, "Editors' Choice"
"This formally innovative collection rewards readers with its memorable and incisive reflections."
"In a distinctive debut illuminating Black life in the United States, Price offers a startling number of taut, to-the-point aperçus, working not so much by lyrical turn as by the captured moment, the homed-in-on truth of 'overworked fathers and damaged mothers,' the 'commonwealth of hooded children,' the murdered, the enslaved whose burial sites are unknown, the 'bodies [that] have been thrown away.'. . .An assured debut from a writer to watch."
—Library Journal, "Celebrate National Poetry Month"
"Karisma Price’s debut, I’m Always so Serious, is an address to and through various beloveds."
—Harriet Books through Poetry Foundation
"Lyrical, ample, beloved."
—Ms. Magazine, "The Best Poetry of the Last Year"
"The book is a tender but powerful thing, something you want to cradle and not drop."
—Christopher Louis Romaguera for Ploughshares
"To put it simply, Price offers a collection that should be in the running for every poetry award available this year. She writes with incredible precision, yet every poem feels impossibly natural, almost inevitable, as though the words were only ever meant to exist exactly as Price arranges them. I’m Always So Serious is among the best debuts in American poetry, and Price has established herself as one of the most preeminent voices of her generation."
—The Poetry Question
"Incredible. . . . I see myself returning to this touching book again and again."
—Connie Pan for Book Riot, "Poetry Books for Nonfiction Lovers"
"Such a vivid, sui generis project!"
—Julie Marie Wade, Tupelo Quarterly
"I’m Always so Serious is a collection that will stun you, that will haunt you, that will leave you in tears but also with the courage to move on, with the knowledge that the poet cares that 'you are cared for.'"
—Tiffany Troy, Tupelo Quarterly
“Karisma Price speaks with a wink, a sigh, a knitted brow when she says she’s always so serious. She speaks as someone raised on a gumbo of James Baldwin and James Booker, Buckjumping and Brooklyn. She speaks as your phone’s autocorrect, your remixed song lyrics, your friendly neighborhood fortune teller. Price speaks directly to and for you while speaking distinctly for herself. These are the masterful portraits, mercurial testimonies, and verbal inventions of our imminent poet of the new school/south, the next generation. I’m Always so Serious is brilliant.”
—Terrance Hayes, winner of the National Book Award for Lighthead
“In I’m Always so Serious, Karisma Price takes an unflinching look at personal, familial, racial, historical, and national violences in order to celebrate her survival of them. But Price is honest about the cost of that survival: ‘I refuse to make either of us cry in this poem so//I’ll just tell you that the willow weeps.’ These poems are intimate in ways that enlist our inclusion as readers in every line and scene. And yet, they are bold enough to mark and make clear a city as romantic and mythologized as New Orleans. This is a brilliant debut by a poet we should continue to watch.”
—Jericho Brown, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Tradition
“I’m Always so Serious is, naturally, bursting with humor. it laughs in the dark. It plays in the cemetery. In this stunning first collection, Karisma Price has crafted a voice that’s blunt and sharply observant, witty but earnest, and excitingly flexible. Whether lyrical, formal, or experimental, these poems approach language masterfully, with intimacy and adventure. Wry and introspective with painterly description and enormous heart; this book absolutely shines. It flaunts its black aliveness and revels while in anguish. It’s the tender part in conversation with the hard edge.”
—Morgan Parker, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Magical Negro
“‘Each of my days is a failed manifesto,’ Price writes in this fearless, bristling debut, and happily for us, this falling short of declaring herself conclusively means that her days yield poems instead of platforms—lyrics alive with striving and open to discovery, full of idiosyncrasy, insight and surprise. This isn’t to say that where the poet stands (politically and otherwise) is ever anything less than clear as day, but what she finds there is existence in all its telescoping complexity—the public sphere, the intimate; the minute detail and enormous truths; history’s voices still audible in the present; and above all, the saving grace of music and life’s ‘little sugars shining’ amid the pain of loss, loneliness, and injustice. As formally inventive as it is fully inhabited, I’m Always so Serious does what a first book should—it introduces us to a voice at once new and familiar, satisfies us deeply, and leaves us aching to hear what more the poet has to tell and eager to see how she tells it.”
—Timothy Donnelly, winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for The Cloud Corporation
“In her vital debut I’m Always so Serious, Karisma Price assembles a choir. On the first page, Oppen duets with André 3000. Later, Homer and Baldwin croon. Throughout the collection, Price’s casts dazzle—Douglas Kearney, Ella Fitzgerald, Cher, Gwendolyn Brooks, Frank Ocean, and Ringo Starr all make important appearances. Price summons these titans to harmonize with her own singular and unforgettable voice, rendering a blooming bouquet of lyric moments I will never forget—lines like, ‘There is ample. / Ample is here.’ Like, ‘My father was a soft violence taken by a softer violence.’ Like, ‘Baby, I have broken the trees for you.’ I’m getting goosebumps just typing them now. These poems are better than good; they’re undeniable.”
—Kaveh Akbar, author of Pilgrim Bell
“This book is the radiant debut of a true blues poet. Stitching together everyday objects, cherished wreckage and embodied memories, Karisma Price doesn’t have to raise her voice higher than a rich hum for us to hear the howl seething under every line in I’m Always so Serious. Be warned, though: in the precise and devastating moments that she does decide to unleash that unbridled rage, you will have no choice but to join her howl.”
—Saeed Jones, author of Prelude to Bruise
“Karisma Price’s poems are detail rich like a memoir that always exceeds comfort by letting things have their own true size and fact and if these deft poems were a government (and we lived ‘under’ it) we would be the lucky citizens of the only wild and just place on the planet.”
—Eileen Myles, author of For Now
“The poems in I’m Aways so Serious shimmer with formal dexterity, brim with literary innovation, and sing a new song of the South. There were times reading this book when I would finish a poem, look around, and audibly say ‘how did she just do that?’ Karisma Price is an astonishing writer, and this book is a fantastic debut.”
—Clint Smith, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America
“There are poetry collections and then there are poetry collections. I’m Always so Serious, Karisma Price’s striking debut, is the latter. If you’re a poet, you’ll wish you would’ve written ‘God watches me through a viewfinder whispering, It’ll be worse next time. It’ll be your mother.’ If you’re a reader, you’ll wonder, ‘how did she know “we are as lonely as every room/without a piano”’? I’m both a writer and reader of poems, and so am doubly floored. Price has written one hell of a first book.”
—Nicole Sealey, author of Ordinary Beast
“Karisma Price has given us a phenomenal collection—inventive, exhilarating, and crackling with honesty—that is deeply worth our time and attention. But the real magic of I’m Always so Serious is its exquisite balance of tough questions with gorgeous pockets of hope. A breathtaking debut.”
—Jami Attenberg, New York Times bestselling author of The Middlesteins
“A book that navigates several locales and mythologies: Greek, New Orleans, and New York. Price is a technician of the intimate and the nuanced. She depicts the streets with as much genius as she revels within the fractured realm of the remembered. Poetry lovers should rejoice at the breathtaking inventiveness to be found on each page. I’m Always so Serious heralds the arrival of a brilliant voice that has come to dissect, reinterpret, and clarify. And this book will be dissected and paid homage to. I’m Always so Serious is a book of poetry that begs to be reread after the last page is turned. Gift I’m Always so Serious to your friends. They will thank you.”
—Maurice Carlos Ruffin, author of The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You
“Karisma Price’s I’m Always so Serious is an absolute force. With language so deftly selected, it’s a book where the self maintains its place gloriously at the center of the story, always insisting on its truth as its heartbeat drives the poem. Abundant with graceful language that speaks to life’s joys and sufferings, I’m Always so Serious tells the tale of a self that has lifted itself into a new sort of existence—one where poetry is within the heart of everything. The book resounds, ‘I wanted to hold your voice/ to my ear like a secret.’ You will find yourself holding the music of these poems to your ear like a prayer. I love this book and this poet, and you will, too.”
—Dorothea Lasky, author of Animal
“Karisma Price has written the book I've needed at every stage of my life. I’m Always so Serious brought me home and lifted me to those Black southern abundant places that raised and razed me. Rarely, if ever, do we get this much stylized wonder in one singular book. It’s incredible.”
—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy: An American Memoir
“How does one begin to speak about poems that continue to speak, that continue to challenge, so long after the page is turned? I’m Always so Serious is a book of immense teachings—a stunning, tender debut that gathers us (in the Black sense) by the ear. Poems that can’t help but signify. They peer out from one vantage point and escape into another. Even now, I hear them ringing in my neighbor’s throat. This is the power of Karisma’s Black Southern poetics, and her rendering of adolescence where we learn so early that ‘everything is measured in blood.’ This book shows us what language can do, how it leaps in and against our favor. That’s no easy task, a testimony fueled by introspection where even the poet isn’t off the hook. This is what I mean by haunting work. We already know the facts. Karisma gives us the truth of the matter.”
—Malcolm Tariq, author of Heed the Hollow
“In the opening pages of I’m Always so Serious, chairs appear frequently, which may be a subtle way of suggesting you ought to be sitting down as you read these wholly original poems that will undo you as you enter Karisma Price's acts of witness, love, protest, tenderness. The world of these poems is both familiar and strange, a world where domestic details take on the numinous, harrowing truth of her compassionate witness. Reading Price, who in one poem braids Baldwin and Homer together, you might recall Baldwin's words about empathy, a quality that pulses through these poems: ‘It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive or who had ever been alive.’ I am glad to be alive in the same space-time as Price, who is guide, companion, emcee, absence, love, pure audacity rowing us through Katrina’s floodwaters, through ‘the blue suede of the casket,’ ‘the clack clack of movement,’ and the rest of America, asking ‘In what way would you like to be devastated?’”
—Catherine Barnett, author of Human Hours
“I’m Always So Serious honors its name with enduring elegies; love songs for the vulnerable; and fantastically formal verses that pinpoint what aches after the water has resolved its hunger, who bucks to the sound of their own clarion. Here, ‘History almost unchained itself/ from my weaker clavicle./ Everyone looked’ and instead of shying away, these poems navigate through an Odyssey of its own making: Black, tragic, and lit up from the inside with the possibility of family. ‘I tell you I want to exist/ without interference,’ she writes, and who are we to interfere with such an impressive debut?”
—Phillip B. Williams, author of Thief in the Interior
“Karisma Price’s poems unfold—like hands lifted in praise, like a sharpened pocket knife—into expansive litanies that catalogue and exalt Black life amidst so much loss. Everything I love, Price writes, stands with death. The exquisite self-portraits rendered here are shaded and contoured in relation to cherished communities of the dead and to the operations of white supremacy that have wrought such devastation: I exist with white / and static stars bursting in the center of my vision. This remarkable volume expands and contracts across home and displacement, across broken levees and Brooklyn sidewalks, across historical and surreal temporalities, charting the pulse of an American story so dark you have no other option but to call it / precious.”
—Deborah Paredez, author of Year of the Dog