In addition to her usage of personification as a poetic tool, Serrano exemplifies what great poets do, which is to feed the reader the world as it is. And in that world, race lives in us as a social construct. It echoes in the poet’s description of Sydney Road:
Sydney Road doesn’t lend itself to odes. It is too odd, un-self-consciously so.
In John Forbes’ poem ‘Love Poem’, set in the midst of the Gulf War, he describes how ‘Spent tracer flecks Baghdad’s bright video game sky’ as a reflection of his own heartache. Similarly, Serrano describes Sydney Road as an amalgamation of the east and the west:
East collides with West where Victorian buildings take a backseat to Lebanese bakeries
She exercises poetic truth-telling in the midst of the ordinary, by capturing the horrors that lurk in our backyards:
And somewhere not far, a murderer lurks, a rapist covers his tracks, armed at large.
Such unison in difference exists without hesitation throughout each chapbook in this series. Dimitra Harvey’s collection A Fistful Of Hail explores themes of gender, belonging, parenthood and love. In ‘At The Market’ the reader follows the story of a woman who shows loud ambiguity. The narrator doesn’t quite understand this character; the poem’s voice has a distant, unfamiliar tone. By shifting the lens, Harvey is inverting the way the power in general operates, from the observing to the observed. She gives the poem’s character the power to be understood other than by the gaze.
The reader is one observer of this woman’s journey; the narrator is the other:
I’ve never seen her eyes. When I try to imagine them, they are huge and dark, full of loneliness
The unnamed woman decides to exercise her own subjectivity when she lets the narrator see her eyes:
This morning I dropped a coin at her feet. She raised her head, looked straight at me. Her eyes were keen and bright as a hawk’s, as fierce.
Ariel Riveros’ collection speaks to belonging, home and the diaspora. Poems like ‘A Ruptured Home’, ‘Paean To A 1996 Psychotic Breakdown’ and ‘Whilst I Was Here With You and Living On The Other Side Of The World’ approach their themes more directly as the struggle and placement of language becomes more overt:
I revolved around English to touch the deep fallows of Chaucer and the mapa mundi of seamonsters.
(‘Whilst I Was Here With You and Living On The Other Side Of The World’)
‘Paean To A 1996 Psychotic Breakdown’ examines language as a condition of mind:
Word is sf -- Sd So Word as becoming the thing it describes
D And D = E + F E being an image of the universe elicited from just the butterfly nebula.
Riveros also uses courageous imagery to describe the feelings of ‘A Ruptured Home’:
Where inside it rains upwards a hat a home for hair This is a skeleton of a house a home truth is unreliable
As with all of life’s challenges one cannot transcend and overcome adversity without acknowledging their lived experience in the world. Much like a person who feels the result of neglecting to unpack their issues, those who experience the world as an ‘other’ recognise the importance of reckoning with how the world views their personhood.
Ramon Loyola’s collection The Measure Of Skin is a manifestation of such reckoning through his exploration of race. His poem ‘Identity’ explores belonging as it’s experienced by two brown-eyed, olive-skinned individuals:
When we merged, we got lost in each other. And so we each stayed where we were, where we can bother shimmer in the flickering sun.
Eleanor Jackson’s collection A leaving embodies a kind of harrowing loss that howls at family, gender, love and heartbreak. Such loss is exemplified through a powerful description of a family portrait in the poem ‘Your Family Portrait In Bloom’ through silence, a stitched mouth and the confusion of inedible things. Conversely, the last poem in the collection, titled ‘Who Is The Woman’, expresses strength:
Who Is The Woman without history who can undo the alchemy of experience rewind the wine into grapes
Jackson uses point of view to combine the personal and political without filter and shame. Her use of punctuation and rhythm add to the function of her poems.
Anupama Pilbrow is a writer whose work often deals with the dispersions of a people and their stories. The title of Body Poems aptly describes the poetics of the diaspora. Our bodies carry our stories and sometimes reveal these in despicable ways, as shown in the poem ‘Despicable Body Poem’:
I am grinding my teeth and putting in to my ears my fingers and your fingers all loose and swaying like spaghetti in water.
So much of diasporic loss comes from silence. Pilbrow shows silence through the image of grinding teeth; stories locked in our bodies. The act of silencing, originating from the contempt of others, creates a social state like ‘spaghetti in water’ if not addressed. Such silencing prevents the diaspora the stability of ordinary life.
Conversely, Anna Jacobson’s eclectic collection of poems titled The Last Postman covers longing, hope and ordinary living. The poems evoke the power and magic in the ordinary. In making visible the transformative nature of the ordinary these poems name and direct their characters on a journey towards purpose. Such a shift occurs in ‘Appointment Of The Last Postman’:
The girl sitting opposite shuffles her feet and looks at the planets. I don’t know how I got here, she says. Easy, you’re the last postman – It’s your ticket here. He hands her the bag Filled with fifteen letters.
Stories depicting the ordinary life of the modern world heighten the stark devastation of displacement and uncertainty. Misbah’s prose poetry undoubtedly follows the conventions of a prose poem through its line breaks, long sentences and poetic imagery, Rooftops In Karachi combines real, temporary and imagined places of conflicted wants, all of them connect to her journey to Pakistan as an apostate. ‘Dressing The Departed’ is driven by a type of longing for peace:
Her mouth is still hot with a tongue of fire, a fissure of dying suns. And through that longing the writer explores forgiveness and the pain of loss: She is the forgivable woman: silent, still, rosy-cheeked and dead.
This deciBels series is a powerfully charged body of work that invites, demands and traces identity as a landmark for expressing the human experience. Here, poetry is used as a tool for insight; these writers model the poetics of making visible that which is invisible. While diverse in style, all of the chapbooks in this series unapologetically use poetic devices to disrupt hegemonic modes of race and gender. And while diverse in identity, these poets celebrate characters, stories and themes that have been neglected.