order GILT at YesYes Books or Amazon or SPD
"To read GILT is to open windows steamed with bright and exacting language, worlds where a “cobra is a garland—no, the cobra / is a man’s knuckles, a girl’s hair clumped / between them…” Shirali’s tough-tender debut embroiders lavish Indian weddings and Diwali festivals with the reckonings of a relationship’s end. The rich wisdom you glean from the powerful pages of GILT will leave you spent and enchanted."
-Aimee Nezhukumatathil, author of Lucky Fish
"Raena Shirali is a poet who keeps asking what poems can actually do, and these formally inventive lyrics ask for activity, for travel. Her comment on culture, on identity, on justice is her comment on poetry. It is not fixed; and if it is, it shouldn’t be. GILT is a book of danger and sarcasm
-Jericho Brown, author of The New Testament
GILT was also recently named a long-list finalist for the 2017 Julie Suk Award, an August 2017 Small Press Distribution Poetry Bestseller, & was ranked #5 on TRACK//FOUR's list of Ten Most Anticipated Poetry Collections by People of Color in 2017.
"Shirali, the daughter of Indian immigrants, has written a collection that dissects experiences against a white Southern background and begs the question: “What does America demand of my brown body?” Her answer is complicated. She is expected to be thin, fair, demure, accepting, and invisible—all while being fetishized and sexually available. The speaker refuses all this, and we join in her refusal; she so easily slips into a narrative of brutal, unabashed nakedness that we are left stunned."
-Paige Quiñones at Chicago Review of Books
"Shirali’s ethnicity made her exotic to boys in a way that seems, in retrospect, predictable (‘‘how they writhe when I flash a dark nipple. I’m durga, I’m kali’’); but (the poems ask) if she were to swear off acting exotic, if she were to distance herself from what boys want her to be, what, or who, would she be? Shirali’s waterlogged, fertile South Carolina and Georgia are places where girls define themselves by how boys feel and what young men can do for, or with, or to them; raw poems place those definitions in exceptionally high relief. Some of those poems, emerging from what Shirali calls ‘‘the space between girl and grown,’’ make sense as what we have learned to call performance poetry, an art that overlaps more broadly every year with its more careful, better-funded, pagebased cousin, as poets who grew up with YouTube earn MFAs...Such lines demand to be read aloud."
-Steph Burt at The Yale Review
" The lavish and daring poems in Gilt do indeed soar, pitch, and shimmer as they unravel and restring the intricate brocades of culture and memory Shirali seeks to understand. The best poems in this collection (“Dare I Write It,” “to miss America,” “Between Here & Predictable Characters”) examine gender and race through the prism of the American South and through popular culture. Gilt is an impressive first book, one that presages great things to come."
-Dante Di Stefano at The Best American Poetry
“Raena Shirali’s debut collection from YesYes Books is shot through with concrete images that shape and refract each poem’s surface, much like the way the book’s title serves as both object and verb (“gilt” being both a thin layer of gold and a variant of the verb “to gilt” as well as, of course, a homonym for guilt): the poems are as visual as they are internal, as in the modular “if i wrap myself in gold,” broken into sections titled after garments and objects of varying value: “Sari,” “Sequins,” “Shadow,” and “Leaf.” Anaphora often creates narrative tension resolving into ambiguous beauty, as in the final lines of “The Downing”: “The way // I made myself stop singing. The way loving you felt / like swallowing gold.”"
-Julia Bloch at Jacket2
“I remember the conditioning well. Women teaching me the ways of being woman. Being clean. Most importantly, unseen. Gilt opens a window to gender ideologies embedded into the fabric of our society. Women teaching girls how to be a desirable wife. How to go with the flow. But that’s not all that Raena Shirali is concerned with in her debut collection. We see the violent history of men and women. The taking of woman’s body for pleasure and as punishment. Then we see the reclaiming of body. The reconditioning of what it looks like to be woman. Gilt is split into four parts, or phases. For me, they are the conditioning, the breakdown, the reclaiming of self, and the leaving.
In solidarity, I am all the women in Raena Shirali’s Gilt. The woman who is conditioned as a girl to carry herself delicately to be foldable and ready for a husband. The woman whose body is misused and abused for the pleasures of men. The woman who reclaims her unfamiliar body, with an understanding that the reclaiming is never easy. The woman who finds that loneliness may be only way that she is free. That is home.”
-Daschielle Louis at Empty Mirror