The Makings of You
Nii Ayikwei Parkes
Peepal Tree Press
ISNB:978 1845 231 590
Review by: Zainab
Parkes’ debut full collection tells of the story of his childhood that moves between Ghana and the UK and a family history that takes us from the Caribbean to West Africa.
The Makings of You incorporates a ten poem, series, ‘Ballast’, an imagining of the slave trade by hot air balloon. Divided into four sections with ‘Ballast’, taking the 3rd section, in some ways it could be seen as breaking the flow, of the telling of this family story or instead, as a historical flashback.
It is this very concept that takes poets from the ordinary to the extraordinary; and if well handled earns deserved recognition and as in Parkes’ case, shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award for Poetry Pamphlets.
Within the collection, Parkes’ weaves structure easily and adeptly into forms for storytelling such as in the opening poem, ‘E be so’. The very title itself, rings out the sound of the beginning of a story. In a creolised tongue, the opening lines of each of the four stanzas highlight the reader to the need for attentive listening to the unfolding story which he tells in four neat and precise stanzas, that tell a significant part of the story in each.
Parkes’ use of structure in poems like this, is almost unnoticeable, yet contribute significantly to the rhythm and the story itself.And after one quick lesson from Red, of how to kill a chicken with bare hands, he is told – it is his turn next! In the best storytelling fashion, Parkes’ doesn’t overdo the telling, so the reader is left to sense how this six year old from South London is feel. It is poems like these that make reading poetry exciting.
In public readings, Parkes often mentions his love of food, so ‘Stripping Yam’ has to be mentioned, as he describes the beauty of the yam itself, not in a hedonistic way, but as young as he was, realising the distance it has to travel before it gets to his belly and the appreciation that comes from that . He also uses it to show the love that the brothers have for each other and the way that the sharing of yam reinforces this and binds them together.
This really is a fine example of how a poem should tell a story and this poet shows us how to do it very well.
Again, his use of form, makes this story flow, in 3 line stanza vignettes, in a mix of English and Ga that usually are only broken by a comma, not a thought, leading directly into the next stanza.
There are a few poems where this does not work so well, and although I like Crossing Borders for example, the form in this one, feels slightly forced.
The title poem, taken from the title of a Curtis Mayfield classic, is a true ‘baring of the soul’. Starving and alone one Christmas, he recalls the memory of doing so as a child too; then, it was the slow sucking and chewing of a groundnut.
Yet as a young man, comes the added starvation of the trust of his girlfriend. Taking him to the brink of a deep depression, yet somehow he climbs out of it – ‘All these things that make you the man that you are’, and one that is not embarrassed to tell it as the key to his poetry collection.
The poem would have sounded trite, if place at the beginning or the end, but it is part of a journey, placed almost carelessly in the first section – this is only part of that journey, the other stories being an equally important part.
Mule & Pear
Rachel Eliza Griffiths
New Issues Poetry & Prose
ISBN:978 1936 970 018
Review by: Malika Booker
Do not name your grief
for this burning village
of lights where the eyes of
girls are buried by darkness…
These daughters who wear
your aches. Old exiles
whose dreams live
Rachel Eliza Griffiths Poetry book ‘Mule & Pear’ resurrects her favourite African American female characters from the fiction of writers like Nella Larsen, Gayle Jones, Jean Toomer, and Zora Neale Hurston to create a series of powerful and vivid persona poems. We meet iconic characters like Alice Walker’s ‘Celie’ and Toni Morrison’s ‘Sula.’
Griffiths uses the emotional thrust of the lyric poem to empower these characters to speak their own selves onto the page in the form of conversations, monologues, elegies, requiems, odes, inner thoughts, dreams, musings, extensions of and dialogues with the original text. The book does not seek to re- represent the text but sidesteps narrative and instead provides new emotional insights into these women and their inner characters and motivations.
Griffiths’ language is musical, delightful and knife-sharp; there is the drawl, anguish and so much sorrow, as demonstrated in the poem, ‘Loquainn Jarvis Picks up the Knife,’ where Griffiths uses the couplet to great effect and effortlessly weaves in five original lines from the author
No sorrow clings like the sparrow
to it’s hymn. I cling
No marriage for m baby.
No children either.
No road cobbled by memory. No
Chile to bury me at the end.
You hear m anguish, girl?
Then she lands the poem with the aplomb:
If m rage wasn’t feeling so cold
I would have turned the knife
into a rose and made his body
This is an ambitious and masterful collection. Griffiths is true to the characters yet at the same times owns them and in doing so makes the reader want to discover or revisit the original text.
Reviewer: Malika Booker
Malika Booker is a British writer of Guyanese and Grenadian Parentage. Her poems are widely published in anthologies and journals. Her collection Breadfruit was published by flippedeye in 2008, and recommended by the Poetry Book Society. She is the first Poet in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company.