Title: If God is a Virus
Author: Seema Yasmin
Publisher: Haymarket Books
Published: 6 April 2021
I received an advanced copy through Books Forward in exchange for an honest review.
Wow! Wow! Wow! I could’ve read this collection of poetry in one sitting, but I held back to fully enjoy the collection. I had to hold back from underlining or highlighting every poem because they all resonated. I was lucky enough to receive an advanced reader copy of this collection through Books Forward in exchange for an honest review.
Dr. Seema Yasmin is an award-winning journalist, medical doctor, disease detective (how cool is that job title, by the way?!), and author. If God is a Virus is based on original reporting from West Africa and the United States, and the poet’s experience as a doctor and journalist. She charts the course of the largest and deadliest Ebola epidemic in history, telling the stories of Ebola survivors, outbreak responders, journalists, and the virus itself. Narrated through documentary poems that explore which human lives are valued, how editorial decisions are made, what role the aid industrial complex plays in crisis, and how medical myths and rumors can travel faster than the virus itself. Do yourself a favor, go pre-order the book now!
If I absolutely had to choose a favorite, which coincidentally I am not, it would the the poems “If God is a Virus.” The poems are titled the same and have, what I’m going to call parts, four parts. Yasmin does an amazing job in really striking people with the lines from the poems, like from Part 1 of the poem “She is vexed. Absolutely done with your shit.” I absolutely love that she portrays God as a woman. And this line from Part 2 “She is a Muslim woman in charge of the remote control & human evolution. Eight percent of your genome is viral-we are literal cousins of ancient pathogens wretched offspring of pandemics” (pg. 26). Ohhh, the one way she puts the punch about how God is not only a woman but now Muslim is perfect. Also, the idea that we are cousins to pathogens, to things trying to kill us.
Dr. Seema Yasmin discusses the implications of how society treats BIPOC people and third world countries, which are more prominent and hard to ignore during a pandemic. As we are finding out now with Covid-19. In the poem, “All the News That’s Fit to Print” (the slogan for the NY Times Newspaper) she explains this really well with the line “Editorial judgement dictates at least sixteen/Black people must die to equal one White/man’s death. Forty-three if the outbreak/is old news, does not involve profuse/hemorrhage, a former colony, or biblical/references. Subtract one dozen if our boys/are deployed to clean up their mess. Add/nine if babies are disintegrating in shallow/graves-but restrict to twelve inches/maximum. Even maple syrup tastes bitter/licked off fingers inked with destitution” (pg. 15). There are many poems that cover the differences between Whites and Blacks and Hispanics and Native American peoples, along with how White people act around doctors who are not white.
I was definitely shocked when reading this collection of poetry at how amazing it is. I know I’ve said it already but please, go out and order a copy for yourself, you will not regret it!
Sidenote: As this is an ARC, the pages I reference may be different than the copy that is released.
Happy Reading Darlings!