Poet X Summary & Study Guide

Elizabeth Acevedo
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Poet X Summary & Study Guide Description

Poet X Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo.

The following version of this book was used to create this Study Guide: Acevedo, Elizabeth. The Poet X. Harper, 2018. First edition.

Part I: "In the Beginning Was the Word" opens with “Stoop-Sitting," a poem that establishes the setting and primary conflict of the text. Xiomara Batista is a Dominican-American teen perched on the edge of the street in Harlem that is lively with the sounds of Dominican Spanish but also the unwelcome calls of the young men who comment on Xiomara's body. Xiomara hurries into her apartment because she is afraid her very strict mother will catch her hanging around outside and scold her. Xiomara's life inside of the apartment is one in which she (unlike her twin brother Xavier) is forced to do housekeeping after school.

Elizabeth Acevedo uses the subsequent poems to develop an overview of the relationships and roles within the Batista family. Xavier is an altar boy who has no problem living up to his reputation as the half of the "miracle twins" who came to Altagracia Batista and her husband late in life. Xiomara is the rebellious one and the constant focus of her mother’s harsh criticism. Acevedo then shifts to the other major settings in the collection, Chisholm High, a big, inner city school where Xiomara walks a gauntlet of sexual harassment daily. In “Games” and “After,” Acevedo goes into further detail on how impactful this harassment is in Xiomara’s life.

On top of the difficult situation at school, Xiomara has to contend with increasing pressure to complete her confirmation as a Catholic. Acevedo uses poems about moments in the church and confirmation class to establish that Xiomara feels uncomfortable in the church because it does not reflect who she is and makes her feel a sense of shame about her body. In “Church Mass,” one of Xiomara’s earliest rebellions takes place when she refuses to take communion.

Back at school, Xiomara sees an announcement for a poetry club and discovers that her English teacher, Ms. Galiano, is a powerhouse when it comes to teaching. Ms. Galiano introduces Xiomara and her classmates to spoken word poetry, an art form that assumes much importance in Xiomara’s development later in the text. Despite her fascination with the poem, Xiomara is still far from imagining herself as a poet.

Acevedo also introduces Aman, Xiomara’s lab partner and eventual love interest in the story. The two have an informal date when they go to a park to listen to music. This casual encounter is a direct violation of Mrs. Batista’s strict no-dating rule.

Having introduced the central characters, established the settings, and set the central conflicts into motion in the first section, Acevedo introduces the complications of the plot in Part II: "And the Word Was Made Flesh." Xiomara has a wonderful first date with Aman in a smoke park and is barely able to contain her excitement when she returns home that afternoon. Xavier recognizes that something is happening in his sister’s life but confirms his role as “worst twin in the world” (97) because he concludes she must be premenstrual. Xiomara loves her brother but finds him to be an atypical Dominican boy who relies on her to defend him. They are a study in contrasts. Xavier is bookish, brilliant, and petite. Xiomara also suspects he is gay.

Xiomara settles into the routine of the school year. Her mother lectures her about her comportment, she daydreams about Aman, shares a poem with him for the first time, and gets herself into deep trouble in communion class by explaining why she does not believe the Bible is literal or true. These conflicts with the church occur in "Eve" and "I Think Genesis Is Mad Stupid." At school, Xiomara writes an essay in which she imagines herself as an established poet who runs a nonprofit for girls like Xiomara in reality. Xiomara is assailed with self-doubt by Ms. Galiano’s question concerning why she does not consider herself a poet. Xiomara dodges the teacher’s effort to get her to join the poetry club, which meets at the same time as the confirmation class.

Xiomara’s relationship with Aman progresses to the point that they share more details of their lives with each other and Xiomara develops a torrid physical attraction to him that is barely satisfied by holding hands in class. Meanwhile, it becomes clear that Xavier is also dating someone secretly. Xiomara’s relationship with Aman screeches to a halt when Aman asks her on a date, something Xiomara cannot bear to tell him is impossible with her mother’s rules.

Xavier comes home with a black eye but insists that he did not get it from the person he is dating. Xiomara and her brother both decide to sneak in a date with their respective boyfriends by pretending to go to their annual Halloween movie outing with Caridad. Xiomara dances with Aman at a Washington Heights party on her secret date, and the couple makes out in Aman's apartment.

Later that week, a determined Xiomara heads to her brother’s school to beat up the person who gave her brother the black eye. She is stunned when she sees Xavier walking with a white boy who is clearly his boyfriend. Xavier is deeply angered by Xiomara’s presumption that he still needs her to defend him. One bright spot in the bad end to the week is that Ms. Galiano announces that there will be an open mic poetry night at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. On Wednesday, Xiomara’s week gets even better when she and Aman go ice skating on a teacher work day. They kiss on the way home on the train.

The conflict between Xiomara and her mother increases dramatically that day: Mrs. Batista saw Xiomara and Aman kissing on the train and furiously discusses her daughter's behavior with her husband, who calls his own daughter a slut. The punishment for this behavior is that Xiomara is made to kneel on rice in front of her mother’s altar to the Virgin Mary until her knees are bloody. Mrs. Batista also heaps verbal abuse on Xiomara's head about her supposed promiscuity. Xavier tries to comfort Xiomara by reminding her that they will be able to leave by going away to college soon, but she is so numb and devastated that she retreats into herself. Xiomara's mother puts her on total restrictions: she may only go to school and church.

In Part III: "The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness," Acevedo resolves the conflicts by showing Xiomara’s path from silent disempowerment to Xiomara finding her voice as a poet and woman. Xiomara pours her heart into writing in her journal and ignores Aman’s pleading messages. She is finally pulled back from the brink of depression when Caridad secures permission from Mrs. Batista for Xiomara to attend the open mic night. When Mrs. Galiano corners Xiomara one day after class to ask why she seems so withdrawn and quiet—a conversation recounted in "Possibilities"— Xiomara refuses to say but does take the teacher up on her offer to attend poetry club: Xiomara's lack of repentance over her actions has convinced Father Sean that confirmation class is not the place for her.

Starting with "Can't Tell Me Nothing," the mood in the section begins to lighten. Xiomara gets wrapped up in poetry club and begins to form a community with its other members. Xiomara feels empowered by her writing and grows increasingly confident about sharing her work. At the open mic night, Xiomara is such a success that the host asks her to enter a citywide slam contest.

As the year moves from Christmas Eve and on to the New Year, Xiomara feverishly prepares material for the poetry slam. Her forward momentum comes to a devastating halt when, on her birthday, her mother discovers her journal, which she inadvertently left on the kitchen table after Xavier gave her a new one for her birthday. In "The Ugly," Xiomara arrives home, and her mother burns her journal, years of poems, in front of Xiomara’s eyes. Xiomara counters her mother’s Bible verses with what she can remember of her own poems; this confrontation is represented in "If Your Hand Causes You to Sin," "Verses," and "Burn." Xiomara runs out of the house and spends the night with Aman. The couple makes out but stops short of sex because Xiomara is not ready. Aman respects her boundaries, a welcome surprise for Xiomara.

When Xiomara shows up at school the next day in the same clothes, Ms. Galiano confronts her. Xiomara pours out the whole story. Bolstered by Ms. Galiano’s support, Xiomara decides to head home. She brings Aman, Caridad, Xavier, and Father Sean with her for support. With Father Sean’s help, the family reconciles, and Mrs. Batista even becomes a willing audience member as her daughter practices the poems she has reconstructed for the poetry slam.

Acevedo brings the events of the story to a close with Xiomara’s moving poems at the poetry slam, where she is cheered on by all the important people in her life. The novel closes with the celebration of this successful outing and an essay in which Xiomara uses a verse from Psalms to describe how poetry has made her feel powerful.

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