“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 towards.
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