The Ferguson Report: An Erasure

Nicole Sealey


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Bloodaxe Books Ltd
14 September 2023
ISBN: 9781780376639
144 pages

From the publisher

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 first collection, Ordinary Beast (2017), is 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

'Nicole Sealey’s 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

Comments on Ordinary Beast:

'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.' – Essence Magazine

'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