In August 2014, Michael Brown – a young, unarmed Black man – was shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. What followed was a period of protests and turmoil, culminating in an extensive report that was filed by the Department of Justice detailing biased policing and court practices in the city. It is a document that exposes the racist policies and procedures that have become commonplace – from disproportionate arrest rates to flagrant violence directed at the Black community. It is a report that remains as disheartening as it is damning
Now, award-winning poet Nicole Sealey revisits the investigation in a book that redacts the report, an act of erasure that reimagines the original text as it strips it away. While the full document is visible in the background – weighing heavily on the language Sealey has preserved – it gives shape and disturbing context to what remains.
Illuminating what it means to live in this frightening age, and what it means to bear witness,
The Ferguson Report: An Erasure is an engrossing meditation on one of the most revealing texts of modern times.
Nicole Sealey won the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem in 2021 with an excerpt from
The Ferguson Report: An Erasure, earning the judges’ praise for creating ‘new moments of lyrical beauty and contemplation’ out of ‘stifling obfuscations’ to shine ‘a light on all that the report tries to hide’, with Shivanee Ramlochan calling it ‘a poem of resonant cultural and social value’.
The Ferguson Report: An Erasure is published by Knopf in the US and Bloodaxe Books in the UK. Nicole Sealey’s debut collection, Ordinary Beast (2017), was published in the UK by Bloodaxe at the same time.
'Sealey takes the US justice department’s investigation into the titular city’s police department after the 2014 killing of Michael Brown by one of its officers, then erases most of its words to reveal the underlying violence. Individual letters are picked out to form fragments, ratcheting up the tension as the eye moves down the page: “use-of-force. Force / of habit. Of nature. Force / feed. Force down. Force / his hand. Force in line”. From the strangulated legalese emerges a bleak, shocking beauty.' – Rishi Dastidar,
The Guardian (Poetry Books of the Month), on The Ferguson Report: An Erasure
The Ferguson Report: An Erasure is a book-length found poem. There is a boldness to the choice of form that feels powerful, like a refusal to be silenced or constrained. Sealey’s ‘lifted poems’ are in full dialogue with the original text ... Sealey distils the lines into what they really mean on a guttural, human level, making the report accessible. This is poetry as truth, both literal and emotional. This is not a redaction, but a speaking up. A testimony ... The Ferguson Report: An Erasure is a masterclass in found poetry, and a testament to the power of poetry as a visual form. Nicole Sealey is unafraid of taking up space, of wielding the silence of others as a ‘Blunt / force to be reckoned with’. This is essential reading.’ – Ellora Sutton, Mslexia
The Ferguson Report: an erasure is a very powerful document, which plays in fascinating and evocative ways with that very loaded word, ‘erasure’ … Its painstakingly deft working of poetry from such dark material demonstrates how we might actually live with such texts amid the world they represent.’ – Ian Pople, The High Window
'Across eight poems Sealey examines the habitual imposition of state violence, the struggle to retain one's humanity when it is officially denied. This is a meticulous, strikingly beautiful erasure that feels ... like it has been painfully, painstakingly extracted, that the journey of the word to the page cost dearly.
The Ferguson Report wrestles with the question of what can be said, when anything you say can and will be used against you.' – Dave Coates, Poetry Book Society Autumn Bulletin 2023
'Redacting the report word by word, letter by letter, Sealey excavates larger lyric insights about American life from its account of police bias and brutality.' –
The New Yorker (The Best Books of 2023) 'Peeling back the clinical language of the official government document, poet Sealey creates ‘lifted poems’ that capture the collective rage of the nation, lay bare the visceral grief, and imagine a new vision of liberation.' –
Oprah Daily (The Best Conversation-Starting Books of 2023)
The Ferguson Report: An Erasure comes to us first in fragments – at times not even syllables, ah or id – but as a feeling, the unsayable constructing itself as we read along or listen. The paced rhythm is almost painfully made as if fleshy blips on the heart meter – a ghostly master text beneath. One feels subliminal truths cumulate out of a visceral engagement, and then the emergence of eight inspired poems.' – Yusef Komunyakaa
'Though these poems are attuned to their own devastation, they continue unapologetically with their own aspirations.’ – Claudia Rankine
'Nothing ordinary here. But beast? Yeah, that’s it. This thing has teeth.' – Patricia Smith
'Nicole Sealey is a poet for the ages, and this is a stunning debut.' – Tracy K. Smith
'These poems are marvels that should be read, re-read, and read aloud to others.' – Amy Tan
'These are poems of thrilling sonic and syntactical play, formal dexterity, mythmaking, and delight in the ordinary rendered strange by new juxtapositions.' – Natasha Trethewey
'Nicole Sealey is one of today’s most interesting poets... she steers us on a fantastic voyage through her infinitely brilliant mind.' –
'Quietly profound, Sealey’s first collected work flows with an avid heart and mind through questions of love, inheritance, friendship, and family—things that sustain us from one day to the next, made more precious by their fragility.' –
O, The Oprah Magazine
Nicole Sealey reads from Ordinary Beast at Ledbury Poetry Festival
Nicole Sealey read twelve poems from
Ordinary Beast at Ledbury Poetry Festival on 2 July 2022. The poems included in her reading are: ‘the first person who will live to be one hundred and fifty years old has already been born’; ‘medical history’; ‘hysterical strength’; ‘candelabra with heads’; ‘in defense of “candelabra with heads”’; ‘heretofore unuttered’; ‘even the gods’; ‘imagine sisyphus happy’; ‘virginia is for lovers’; ‘unframed’; ‘cento for the night i said, “i love you”’ (extract); and ‘object permanence’.
Nicole Sealey reads ‘even the gods’ from ordinary beast
Nicole Sealey reads her poem ‘even the gods’ from
Ordinary Beast. Part of the Adrian Brinkerhoff Poetry Foundation's Read By series of poetry films. Directed by Jean Coleman and produced in collaboration with 92nd Street Y's Unterberg Poetry Center.
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