So I had this dream. In my dream I was on a stage, and I was really belting it out. The dream is fuzzy (as dreams are), but I think I was singing—which is not something that I do in my waking hours, except maybe at home, for fun, when only my cats can hear me.
Anyway, singing or speaking: that’s not the point. The point is, that in my dream, I was filled with this enormous sensation of freedom and joy. It was expansive and powerful, and I woke up with a lingering feeling that there was meaning to all of this confusion called life. It was sublime.
I don’t normally have such profound dreams. Typically my dreams are more of the absurd muddle-of-people-and-places, late-for-something, unexpected-test variety. So this dream was pretty special. And I don’t need a dream analyst to tell me where it came from. It came directly from the pages of Elizabeth Acevedo’s novel-in-verse The Poet X.
he evening before dreaming this uplifting dream, I had finished reading The Poet X. Because it is a novel-in-verse, it was a quick read, and I had let its rhythm carry me like a wave through the narrative in one afternoon.
The Poet X was my introduction to both its author, Elizabeth Acevedo, as well as to the novel-in-verse form. I discovered that not only did the verse keep me reading, pulsing from one beat to the next, but that the author is an exceptionally skilled storyteller.
This is the story of Xiomara, who is a teenager living in Harlem. Xio is a poet, and an incredibly insightful, fierce, tender, and indomitable heroine. Xio’s story is one of having the courage to let your voice be heard—in the face of pain, in the face of family, in the face of everything you have been taught.
The narrative grapples with religion, abuse, loyalty, authenticity, misogyny, prejudice, love, and friendship. Xio’s story is not an easy one. At about three quarters of the way through the book I was sobbing into the pages, but still not able to stop reading. And by the end I was so immersed that I could feel the exhilaration, and the unstoppable force that was Xio.
It moved me so much that I experienced it all over again in my dreams that night.
And THIS, my friends, is what I loved about The Poet X, and what I love love love about reading books in general.
Good books can transport you. My lived experience is pretty far from that of a teenaged Afro-Latina poet growing up in Harlem. And yet, this book carried me there, and shared with me a place and a time that I didn’t really know before. I have now walked in Xio’s shoes, and I have walked in the shoes of countless other protagonists throughout my life. My world has expanded because of them.
There are a bunch of studies floating around out there that link fiction-reading to empathy. For us readers, this does not come as a surprise. Reading connects us to the world, not as a homogenous whole, but as seen through the eyes of individual people. Characters like Xiomara open up our hearts, and show us a whole new perspective.
For me, it’s one of the great joys of reading: getting to inhabit other worlds and other people. Getting to feel something down so deep that it turns up in your dreams.
I could go on and on about The Poet X, and its glorious fusion of rhythm and story, character and heart. But it’ll be easier if you just go read it. I promise, you won’t regret it.