Book Review: ‘A Bound woman is a Dangerous Thing’

Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing DaMaris B. Hill
DaMaris B. Hill. Photo by
Tony Rance.

Hands on the wheel.

Hands on the hood, in the air, on the wall, on the ground. No sudden moves, no waving “hey” or scratching your nose, and don’t reach for a thing. Hands up – although, as you’ll read in “A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing” by DaM­aris B. Hill, there are times when that doesn’t matter.

The fact is shocking: ac­cording to The Sentencing Project, the rate of incarcera­tion for Black women rose 700% between 1980 and 2014. For Hill, that devastating num­ber spurred her to a different kind of action: she wrote poet­ry to honor those incarcerated women, and the women before them.

They are, she says, “love letters” gathered in six groups in her book, beginning with a photo of her fierce grandmoth­er. Hill admits that Harriet Beecher Spruill-Hill was nev­er incarcerated in the physical sense; instead, she was the vic­tim of “Jane Crow styles of op­pression…” The photo kicks off the first segment, which honors ancestors.

Based on a book by history professor Kali Nicole Gross, the second section of Hill’s book deals with historical Af­rican American women, in poems that “attempt to create first-person testimonies…” They were women who weren’t necessarily incarcer­ated, but were instead directly, often instantly punished for crimes committed.

Hill’s third portion focuses on writers such as Ida B. Wells and Zora Neale Hurston, and women like Eartha Kitt and Sonia Sanchez, who used their talents and networks for po­litical activism. Her fourth segment “focuses on what it means to hurdle; to spring forth” beyond the bonds that held this chapters’ subjects back. The fifth section is devot­ed to Assata Shakur, a woman Hill calls “a second Harriet Tubman…”

Hill’s final chapter is devoted to connections and how there is an arc between “bound” wom­en and their families and chil­dren today. In this chapter, Hill includes “an autobiographical journey,” as the mother of a Black man, and her heartache over his addictions.

Looking much like a histori­cal narrative, the front cover of “A Bound Woman is a Danger­ous Thing” is very misleading. Readers will want to know that this is not strictly a history book. Yes, there’s history in­side it – brief, fascinating his­tory; biographical clips; and wonderful period photos – but that’s not the focus.

Instead, author DaMaris B. Hill offers too-short introduc­tions to various Black women throughout history before pre­senting poems she wrote, based on each individual woman’s situation. Names may be famil­iar, while others are not, and the poems vary: a few are wry, al­most biting, with just the barest touch of modern sarcasm. Most are loaded with symbolism and metaphor, made to make you think. For lovers of poetry, that mix here will be welcome and powerful but for readers expecting something else, the presentation could be a head-scratcher.

All your life, you’ve been warned not to judge a book by its cover, and that’s appropri­ate advice for a poetry book that masquerades as history. Browsers who aren’t cautious, beware of that before putting “A Bound Woman is a Danger­ous Thing” in your hands.

“A Bound Woman is a Dan­gerous Thing” by DaMaris B. Hill, c.2019, Bloomsbury, $25.00 / $34.00 Canada, 173 pages

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