The Library of Virginia is a favorite haunt for genealogists, tracking down their ancestors with great hopes of finding a notable person in their family tree—a founding father, European royalty, and so on. Unfortunately, many Black Virginians have no hope of finding anything beyond the 17th century, when their ancestors were stolen from their homes and brought here as a cash crop. Poet, professor, and Virginia Literary Awards finalist Kiki Petrosino encountered this dilemma.
A native of Baltimore, Petrosino graduated from the University of Virginia and returned there to direct the Creative Writing Program and teach as a Professor of Poetry. Between leaving and returning, she completed graduate degrees at the University of Chicago and the University of Iowa’s famed Writer’s Workshop. 1 Petrosino’s highly lauded (see side box) fifth full volume of poetry explores slavery and discrimination. She deploys wide-ranging poetic forms and wordplay to tackle grievous truths. 2 Publisher’s Weekly writes: “These poems candidly tackle questions of identity, historical injustice, and suffering while suggesting the possibility of greater understanding…”
So what is it about White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia that has it earning laurels such as the 2021 UNT Rilke Prize and the Spalding Prize for the Promotion of Peace and Justice? Petrosino’s literary chops and her perspective produce provocative musings –mirrors for Black readers, windows for other readers.
For example, in The Shops at Monticello, excerpted in Rhino, Petrosino reflects on the long cycle of capitalism supported by the labors of enslaved people: “I’m a black body in this Commonwealth, which turned black bodies/ into money…” In the poem, she finds herself in the gift shop, spending money where her ancestors were enslaved, noting that these are indeed “…strange mansions/ built on mountains of wealth.” Thus, Petrosino exhorts each of us to examine the irony of our past and present realities.
Poetry is a particularly effective form for such examination—allowing for creative use of words, white space on paper, and the impact of rhyme or dissonance. In sampling White Blood, you will find that Petrosino has mastered this art. White Blood may be purchased at the Virginia Shop or borrowed from your local public library. Petrosino is anticipating the publication of her memoir, Bright, in 2022.
A Sampling of White Blood: A Lyric of Virginia Honors and Awards
- Winner of the 2021 UNT Rilke Prize
- Hurston/Wright Foundation Legacy Award Nominee
- Library of Virginia Literary Awards Finalist
- Winner of the 2021 Spalding Prize for the Promotion of Peace and Justice
- Featured in 2021 CLMP Indie Lit Fair, “Power to the People”
- IPPY Awards, Silver Medal for “Poetry”
- Official Selection of Virginia for Route 1 Reads
- The New York Times, “Poems that Poets Turn to in a Time of Strife”
- The New York Times Book Review, “New and Noteworthy”
- Publishers Weekly “Spring 2020 Announcements, Top 10”
- Library Journal, “Black Voices Matter 2020”
- Publishers Weekly, “An Anti-Racist Poetry Reading List”
- Rumpus, “What to Read When You Want to Celebrate Women’s History”
- The Millions, “Must-Read Poetry: May 2020”
- Library Journal, “Versifying / Collection Development: Poetry”
- Poets.org, “National Poetry Month Books for 2020”
- Southern Review of Books, “The Best Southern Books of May 2020”
1 “Bio & Books.” n.d. Kiki Petrosino. Accessed April 13, 2022. http://www.kikipetrosino.com/about.
2 Foundation, Poetry. 2022. “Kiki Petrosino.” Poetry Foundation. April 13, 2022. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/kiki-petrosino.