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Book Review: Big Feelings

Gigi Bella ranked the tenth woman poet in the world at the Women of the World Poetry Slam (WOWPS) in 2017, so it is remarkable to witness her sonnets, drafts, and more on the page. Bella’s poetry book Big Feelings encapsulates the vernacular of brown girlhood that gives the reader the permission to feel all of the variances of love, heartbreak, femininity, and the nuances of simply (and not so simply) being alive.

The acknowledgements page is first rather than last. That’s not unusual, we’ve seen that in all kinds of published books before. However, in a book entitled Big Feelings, it is true sign of the book’s namesake being well represented. Bella writes, “listen, i never planned to release a book literally in/the middle of a fucking pandemic. my world has ended over & over & over/again. i was in abusive situations while i wrote this book. i was homeless/when i submitted it. the world is always ending but somehow it’s weirdly/never all the way over. we only have each other & our stories & our/reckless dreams. we are all just a big tangled ball of our big big feelings.” I am willing to argue that the acknowledgements are poetry in itself, and what a beautiful way to bring the reader in immediately.

Bella is a gifted storyteller as seen in her poem “luz/gus” writing the way girls talk in the city of Albuquerque amongst friends while the jaggedness of the line breaks in the piece is redolent of the jaggedness that comes with flirting in high school for the first time; “ur friends/are all like eeeeeeeeeeeeee/that fool is cute &/u know it in ur heart that the fool is actually real cute…they’re the only fool who makes you feel like that like ur a ghost but a/really cool fancy one,” thus taking us through a series of poems about heartbreak due to white men fetishising her as a brown woman, men who appear safe but really aren’t, and more.

In “LOUIE SAYS WEIRD THINGS LIKE,” she shows us how healthy love can feel weird after going through so many tumultuous relationships; “i don’t know how to tell him that everything sounds weird to me/unless it is a broken chaos. police out a window. keys jingling on a boy chasing me from a bus stop.” It’s important to maintain that sense of weirdness in order to continue that internalized repair work to the point where it will feel less and less weird: “i will only/ever listen to all the weird things louie says and i will promise to only/ever say weird things back.”

Bella also has the courage to show us where heartbreak comes from through the lens of Ariana Grande songs and the Netflix show Stranger Things. In “justicia para barb,” Barb from Stranger Things reminds her of her mother. Not only in ‘eighties feminine looks, but in how she faced monstrous violence in a way similar to Barb. Bella is willing to make parallels to her mom and her own experience with sexual assault while acknowledging how the mending in one’s self after generational harm is possible. She writes, “maybe there is some justice in the world &/we can’t see it when we’re with people we don’t really want to be with/in places we don’t really want to be but/maybe when we grow up/we coalesce into the person we always were.”

Part of what plays a role into coalesce into that person, at least for me while reading this book, is becoming a person that always wanted to live in joy amidst all the messy. When talking about suicidal ideation, Bella describes a sense of “imposter syndrome, “which is a form of transparency I don’t see often in poetry about suicidality, even though I know there are suicide survivors who have felt like this. The theme of feeling like a ghost who has all of these feelings that aren’t valid in this poetic journey is one a lot of readers can resonate with. I’m not saying that this is a book meant to be “relatable” to everyone. I don’t believe books and media should be used as a tool to generalise people’s experiences. “[Bella is] the/femmetacostal congregation at [her] own xicana church,” and we need to continue to allow her that space. I am saying that one of the hardest human experiences is loneliness, and we as readers are able to be alone together because of Bella’s work; it’s incredible how she allows us our own similar spaces.

Preorder Big Feelings (coming out May 5th) now from Game Over Books. While you’re waiting for your copy, you can check out more about her work on her website and see her perform her poem from the book “First Draft of My Wedding Vows” on Button Poetry’s YouTube channel.


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