Aster of Ceremonies
A polyphonic new entry in Multiverse—a literary series written and curated by the neurodivergent—JJJJJerome Ellis’s Aster of Ceremonies beautifully extends the vision of his debut book and album, The Clearing, a “lyrical celebration of and inquiry into the intersections of blackness, music, and disabled speech” (Claudia Rankine).
Aster of Ceremonies asks what rites we need now and how poetry, astir in the asters, can help them along. What is the relationship between fleeing and feeling? How can the voices of those who came before—and the stutters that leaven those voices—carry into our present moment, mingling with our own? When Ellis writes, “Bring me the stolen will / Bring me the stolen well,” his voice is a conduit, his “me” is many. Through the grateful invocations of ancestors—Hannah, Mariah, Kit, Jan, and others—and their songs, he rewrites history, creating a world that blooms backward, reimagining what it means for Black and disabled people to have taken, and to continue to take, their freedom.
By weaving a chorus of voices past and present, Ellis counters the attack of “all masters of all vessels” and replaces it with a family of flowers. He models how—as with his brilliant transduction of escaped slave advertisements—we might proclaim lost ownership over literature and history. “Bring me to the well,” he chants, implores, channels. “Bring me to me.” In this bringing, in this singing, he proclaims our collective belonging to shared worlds where we can gather and heal.
The Aster of Ceremonies audiobook read by JJJJJerome Ellis will be available everywhere you get your audiobooks on October 24, 2023. Listen to samples here.
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Praise and Prizes
“JJJJJerome Ellis’s Aster of Ceremonies blows my mind, and blows the lids off of any preconceptions about what poetry can make possible. With each movement, innovation, insight, and deepening—with each page—we are invited into ceremony: into a greenhouse of gratitude, repetition, remembering, and music. Ellis expertly rearranges sound, perspective, ecology, and history into a priceless song. '[H]owever you are, come, come and stay in the rearrangement.'"
“Say her name! We chant at the vigil. Say their names! We insist in honor of our ancestors. But what if we remember the trouble of the name, the limitation of the name, the fact that we don't know the names of so many of our ancestors, only their indexes of service, their reference of capture? Not to mention the contingency of saying itself in the chasm of history and in the diversity of our vocal flow, for example in the sacrament of the stutter. In Aster of Ceremonies, JJJJJerome Ellis shows how an involuntary stoppage can become a baptism, an infinite offering. Accompanying our formerly enslaved and sometimes speechless, our fleeing and sometimes stuttering ancestors, Ellis acknowledges how the surrender, the space where the voices we would raise in the services of liberation, instead ‘fall to their knees,’ opening space for interspecies eldership, fugitive kinship. Breath. Love. This book is a ceremony we have needed for centuries and an education towards the infinite ceremonies to come. JJJJJerome, we honor the holiness of your speech and of your whole being. We thank all the Plant Elders for creating the oxygen you breathe.”
“If I want to say that I no longer know the difference between fluency and dysfluency, it’s not to deny the difficult facts of impediment and impatience; it is, rather, to acknowledge an achievement of such path-breaking, ground-turning force that it bears the genuinely radical possibility of not knowing but feeling the difference, and of feeling difference in general and in all its generativity. As JJJJJerome Ellis enlarges and distills the very substance of language, black poetry and black poetics come into their own by exploding.”
“Aster of Ceremonies is a ministry of fearlessness, uncaged. Aster, a term Ellis brilliantly rips from the antebellum term Master, represents the unapologetic grit embedded throughout this astounding collection. Ellis unites dysfluency, black performance, and ecology to make visible the identities of black enslaved ancestors and individuals who stutter. We are lyrically transformed in a linguistic garden: emboldened to sing the names of black activists, inspirited to rearrange progress: pronouncing / announcing ‘gro’ from violent terms like Negro, and driven to pay homage to the earth that fertilizes our faith. JJJJJerome Ellis is truly a poetic cultivator of Black Truth.”
"This is what poetry should be. Always. JJJJJerome Ellis brings us back to the fine elements of lyric and line. This tale is one that the ancestors most certainly re-hearse and sing to us when we are sleeping."
“[JJJerome Ellis’] work has challenged and moved me in countless ways; I simply can’t say enough good things about it.”