With attention to the histories that make and sustain a family—its generations, its roots in certain soils—What Pecan Light exhumes a family’s long entwinements in the South and whiteness. Excavating the economic, agricultural, and military roots of the speaker’s family tree, the poems of this collection unearth the speaker’s complicity in the institutions of whiteness: “I was willing / to love a polluted thing.” Working against a narrative of innocence, the poems engage the abiding symbol of the Confederate flag, the historical fact of an enslaving, plantation-owner great-grandfather, and the enduring harm of racial violence.
“Hannah VanderHart’s What Pecan Light paints an unhurried portrait of the ugliest holes in the ‘logics’ of language, in the farm, in the dust-shelves of her familial lineage, and in the collective stain of slavery’s long reach in the contemporary US South. Is there a field in this country without blood? What contorted root have you gnashed? And as she asks, ‘What do I do with this knowledge?’ In this question, VanderHart calls forth what lies at the deep, sore heart of this astounding collection: poetry that troubles the logos of cruelty across history, poetry that disturbs the sprouting weeds of whiteness that cyclically inherit this dying Earth. I feel the thing that comes for us, too. And with VanderHart, I beat my ‘wings before silence.’ I’d like to call up the white ghosts. Let their attendant histories be lonelied by this brilliant book as a single knife drying on a dish rack, sitting in plain view.” —Jessica Q. Stark
“Here is a writer scanning her white girlhood in Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky. VanderHart knows whiteness must be un-mastered: You cannot drag it away like a monument. But where— beyond choosing the gray side (‘always the gray’) in the neighborhood civil war, beyond having enslavers in the family tree, beyond memory—is whiteness? What Pecan Light takes place on a chicken farm whose shit is spread over the family garden; surprisingly, you can only smell it when it rains. This is a perfect metaphor for how VanderHart rains her attention over her life and shows us the ways whiteness bleeds quietly, violently through to the present.” —Joy Katz