|Untitled, by Koss
|Untitled, by Koss
“I’m a daughter, a sister, and a mother
Both grand and great
And I am here to enlighten, entertain, and educate”
Verna Hampton, What Is A Name
The poems in Sister FM Diva celebrate, sing, rap, bless, curse,
revel, and ultimately reveal a poet who is devoted. This is a poet devoted to her
community, to her love of humanity, to her love of justice, of truth. These
poems are anti-apathy, anti-delusion. I have been encouraged by the poet Sean
Thomas Dougherty who once said (paraphrased): I try not to use the word
brilliant or great when describing a poet or poem, but instead try to look in
the direction that the poet is pointing. With this in mind, it is clear that
Verna Hampton is pointing to the human heart.
In these wild & savage times, with the new millennium
not even mid-way through its third decade, this heart energy is needed. The
poems in this collection are teeming with so much heart and soul, it’s nearly
impossible to walk away from time spent with this collection and not be encouraged,
challenged, changed; each and every time. At times I was inspired to weep, at other
times I was filled with so much anger I wanted to break something. The poems in
Sister FM Diva encourage sincere responses, it is clear, because they
are coming from a sincere place.
Another thing I noticed while spending time with Sister
FM Diva is that the poet is committed to the real. Verna Hampton is a poet
of reality. She sees clearly the situation at hand, the on-going crises that
human beings are faced with; and does not shy away from delivering her assessments
as far as what is required of us, of human beings, in order to truly be free. As
well, these poems are unapologetically Black. Hampton is a member of a cohort of
Black story tellers, poets and griots with a rich tradition of truth telling.
While reading Verna Hampton’s collection, I was reminded of Wanda Coleman, and her one-of-a-kind delivery of her poems. When I first heard a Wanda Coleman poem recited by the poet herself, I had heard nothing like it before, and have heard nothing like it to this day. Similarly, I would be eager to hear or see Verna Hampton recite her poetry in a live setting. From what I can tell on the page, the poet has given herself much room for song, much room for her own human uniqueness to shine through—in a way that I think Wanda Coleman also wrote to ensure that nobody was as capable of delivering the power, insight, and beauty of her words like she herself was able to do. I see this possibility in Verna Hampton’s work as well.
I will also argue that it is largely due to Hampton’s
knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of the past; and due to her being grounded,
not unlike the grounding of a majestic oak tree, with its deeply rooted foundation in
the Earth, in the present moment; which makes these poems so enjoyable,
enlightening and entertaining.
I see Verna Hampton's poems as a reminder for these
generations. In a world that seemingly continues ever spiraling towards forgetfulness, delusion, poets like Hampton, who enlighten in their reminding, are healers. To
witness the truth of the past and present being told with so much strength and
courage is a healing endeavor.
While reading Sister FM Diva, I was reminded of a
quote from Jonas Mekas, who said: In the very end, societies perish because they
listen to their politicians, and not to their poets. I hope this review
serves as encouragement to those with open hearts, with open minds; Verna
Hampton’s voice and poems are saying something we need to listen to, attend
to, and carry within that sacred human heart-space I believe she is pointing
To order copies of Sister FM Diva by Verna Hampton, click here.
Inflated elves give way to inflated rabbits clutching inflated carrots. Smiling toast. Water that was once the sky. Bubba is Lord. Reading DREAM KITCHEN is an enriching, life-affirming experience.
Owen McLeod writes with a child-like wonder and fascination that seems to be a celebratory exploration of language. Seemingly melding his own life experience and vocabulary with a dash of the imaginatively marvelous, these poems ignited, intrigued and perplexed my own imagination throughout.
Throughout DREAM KITCHEN, McLeod’s first full-length poetry collection, it feels like the poet is writing an invitation of sorts. The poet invites the reader to look at the world through his eyes, to see with his vision in the current moment, the current poem. These poems are remarkably inviting. With an unquantifiable depth of emotion, the way this poetic captivates attention, and rewards the reader with a sincerity in the humor and an open-hearted insight? Marvelous.
These poems seem to run the entire gamut of the emotional world. Curiosity, longing, joy, pain, sorrow, fear, ecstasy; it’s all in here. Some of my favorite lines come from McLeod’s ‘characters’ being set on a process of discovery. There is a running theme of seeking and searching throughout the collection as well. Such as in the final lines of MIDDLEMARCH, when the speaker’s son is fascinated by a chocolate bunny rabbit on Easter:
“He bit off the head and peeked
Then wept when he saw it was hollow.”
Or, in SOMEONE JUST SEARCHED FOR YOU:
“I open the piano lid and crawl
If they search long enough, they’ll find me.”
Perhaps the speaker is lamenting on the ever fading privacy which seems to be an on-going predicament for human beings in the 21st century. These lines conclude the poem in a way I relate to. Perhaps the poet is pointing to an intrinsic, human need for solitude. The very last line alludes to a kind of hope, and a kind of paranoia at the same time. I find McLeod’s lines complex at the right times, and simple at the right times. This is a poet of depth, of a range which embraces the often elaborate and complicated modes in which a humane voice finds it possible to spring forth.
The brilliant poet Nikki Wallschlaeger recently illumined her views of craft to me during a Twitter exchange. She said (paraphrased), that she views craft as a poet’s own authentic way of communicating in their own voice, in their own style, so when you read a poet, you know it’s them, there’s no mistaking it. I was reminded of this exchange while reflecting on McLeod’s work. While I'm certain there is a long list of influences and inspirations behind McLeod's poems, his craft seems to be uniquely his own. The voice, tone, and style are primed for deep listening.
Reading DREAM KITCHEN was my second encounter with this poet’s work, so I don’t feel I have a big picture idea of precisely what may follow this collection, though this is definitely fertile grounds for a promising poetic craftsman to flourish.
I don’t know that I am ever capable of fully understanding what a particular artist or poet is doing. And I’m not usually concerned with understanding poems in this way, either. One thing I learned from, or rather, was reminded of, in my reading of DREAM KITCHEN, is to strive to see and appreciate where the poet is coming from, and to meet them there, on their own turf, so to speak. There is a great reward in meeting the poet on this sacred ground.
Certainly, writing poetry is work. And I think reading can involve work as well. It is an enjoyable kind of labor, sure, but it can’t be a one-way street. I felt like I was immersed in a world that was similar to my own, but not quite the same. A voice and points of view that were similar to my own, but with a tinge of difference to them. This dual feeling of familiarity and difference is welcome, cherished, and I am grateful to celebrate the gift of poetry with Owen McLeod as I continue my reading and explorations of DREAM KITCHEN.
From the University of North Texas
Owen McLeod’s extraordinary debut maps the contours of an ordinary life: the rise and fall of romantic love, the struggle against mental illness, and the unending quest for meaning and transcendence. Ranging from sonnets and sestinas to experimental forms, these poems are unified by their musicality, devotion to craft, and openness of heart.
Owen McLeod’s DREAM KITCHEN is the
Winner of the 2018 Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry
To purchase copies of DREAM KITCHEN, via University of North Texas Press, click here.
Oriana Ivy writes with a tenderness which I find alluring.
In How to Jump from a Moving Train, this tenderness is perhaps most
apparent in-part because these poems are mainly centered around the poet’s relationship
with her mother.
Jack Kerouac once quipped: I wrote this book because we’re
all gonna die. Life is accompanied by unparalleled loss, by seemingly
insurmountable pain; without anything extra added to it, just on the strength
of the fact that each one of us will have to leave this bodily plane at some
point, and nobody knows when that will be, for themselves or others; because of this, I heed
Oriana Ivy’s message of warmth, of kindness, of tenderness.
Reading How to Jump from a Moving Train is not unlike
developing a sincere friendship with someone. In the beginning there is curiosity,
wonder, joy, gratitude. By the end of this book, these feelings prevail, if not
more fully amplified & heightened, due to the real possibility that we eventually
see the death of this person who we have developed a sense of love and
friendship for, by having known them.
There are so many “little” details and memories throughout
this chapbook, which calls to mind the idea of witness. To witness someone, is to
see that person for who they are. To be present with and for that person. Providing
witness for someone, of course, carries on even after their physical presence
is no longer a reality. To remember the goodness, laughter, the humor; such as
when her mother whispered in Polish, at a party, that the fellow partygoers don’t
understand anything. Or when contemplating desire, the conclusion is
made: But without wanting / the highest, is it really life? To provide
witness for someone with love in this way, I think, is a kind of grace. Is a
kind of relief from the trauma and suffering which often seems to be embedded
in this human life.
Another thing I love about this collection is that the poems
come to the reader on the ground that the suffering of life is understood as a
fact. Life can be messy, many of us are damaged along the way, many of us do
damage along the way. These facts are approached with a kind of trust in the
reader that I admire.
That the poet is able to bring the focus, beyond the trauma
and pain of her journey, to the love, warmth and wisdom for herself, her mother
and with gratitude for her own position in this world, I think, is a sure sign
that it can be done. It is possible to come to a place of warmth &
peace for ourselves, our loved ones, and each other. No matter what.
Throughout my reading of How to Jump from a Moving Train,
I see Oriana Ivy as a witness to the good in humanity, as someone who holds a
kind of radical endurance. This endurance is a great teacher. I am reminded
that I can make it through the storms of my lives with my humanity intact, with
my warmth intact, with a kind of persevering tenderness which opens oneself to
the art & action of being present to love, and loving as fully, as humanely