REVIEW 1: “Autopsy” by Two Rivers Reading Series speaker Donte Collins


Donte Collins reads their poetry on stage. Image supplied by Collins.

Josh Cook, Contributing writer

This week The Campus Eye is featuring student reviews of poet Donte Collins’ “Autopsy.” Collins will be speaking on the Coon Rapids campus April 3 with the Two River Readings Series. Collins will talk at 12-12:50 p.m. and 2-2:50 p.m. in the Legacy Room. 

“Autopsy” by Donte Collins is a poignant amalgamation of personal experience and political commentary. “I matter & a ghost / white hand appears / over my mouth.” At the center of the collection, both literally and figuratively, Collins makes a passionate argument that just as black lives matter, so do black voices. Political themes in the book include gentrification, racial inequity, and words that mask the truth. But the book is also personal. “Every word is for my late mother Mary Lou Collins & anyone who helped us carry in the groceries,” Collins writes. Grief and love give weight to the message that these societal ills are prevalent and real.

Their beautiful blend of authentic and thought-provoking language serves as a backdrop for their more straightforward and unabashedly honest criticisms of how masculine colloquial language can hide what lies underneath the artifice. Collins’ introspective and highly intelligent take on American culture from the perspective of a queer African American poet is a densely packed tale of grief, love, and being true to one’s self.

Besides the dense use of language throughout the book, Collins also shows strong command of using creative form. In “Grief: The Inconvenient Translator,” Collins analyzes where a person’s heart really is when they offer condolences. The poem touches on the central theme of looking underneath spoken words to understand what they really mean: “my _____ died last year : people die all the time.” The form of the poem is split down the middle of the page. On the left are the words Collins heard, and on the right are grief’s translations.

The dense and carefully chosen language in “Autopsy” give the book a strong narrative and poetic structure. One poem that stood out was “In Which the Orphan’s Sister is Murdered Six Months After His Mother’s Death” where they write, “i could let the blood return to my molting brain, unpin revenge / from its crowded shrine where i’ve planned to toss his crimson / body one splashing limb at a time.” Further examining grief, Collins’ diction is both gritty and beautiful.

But “Autopsy” isn’t just a personal story. Collins’ writing shows how their story fits into the American zeitgeist. “i pledge allegiance to Solange & / coconut oil  i pledge allegiance / to grinder & my nudes sent like shiny / brown flags  i pledge allegiance to / the inside joke & Black Twitter  to / selby ave  the side eye emoji  free / open mics & to laughter breaking / like bread.” Collins carefully layers references to everyday life into the story, creating a strong sense that the societal ills discussed are happening now.

As a whole, “Autopsy” is a beautifully written book from start to finish that merges some of the most important issues of the day with a deeply personal and compelling story.