Somewhere between Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and Maggie Nelson’s Bluets belongs Chet’la Sebree’s Field Study: a genre-bending exploration of black womanhood and desire, written as a lyrical, surprisingly humorous, and startlingly vulnerable prose poem
I am society’s eraser shards—bits used to fix other people’s sh*t, then discarded. Somehow still a wet nurse, from actual babes to Alabama special elections.
Seeking to understand the fallout of her relationship with a white man, the poet Chet’la Sebree attempts a field study of herself. Scientifically, field studies are objective collections of raw data, devoid of emotion. But during the course of a stunning lyric poem, Sebree’s control over her own field study unravels as she attempts to understand the depth of her feelings in response to the data of her life. The result is a singular and provocative piece of writing, one that is formally inventive, playfully candid, and soul-piercingly sharp.
Interspersing her reflections with Tweets, quips from TV characters, and excerpts from the Black thinkers—Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, Tressie McMillan Cottom—who inspire her, Sebree analyzes herself through the lens of a society that seems uneasy, at best, with her very presence. She grapples with her attraction to, and rejection of, whiteness and white men; probes the malicious manifestation of colorism and misogynoir throughout American history and media; and struggles with, judges, and forgives herself when she has more questions than answers. “Even as I accrue these notes,” Sebree writes, “I’m still not sure I’ve found the pulse.”
A poem of love, heartbreak, womanhood, art, sex, Blackness, and America—sometimes all at once—Field Study throbs with feeling, searing and tender. With uncommon sensitivity and precise storytelling, Sebree makes meaning out of messiness and malaise, breathing life into a scientific study like no other.