Using the necessary kindling of unflinching memory and fearless observation, anjail rashida ahmad ignites a slow-burning rage at the generations-long shadow under which African American women have struggled, and sparks a hope that illuminates “how the acts of women— / loving themselves— / can keep the spirit / renewed.” Fueling the poet’s fire—sometimes angry-voiced but always poised and graceful—are memories of her grandmother; a son who “hangs / between heaven and earth / as though he belonged / to neither”; and ancestral singers, bluesmen and -women, who “burst the new world,” creating jazz for the African woman “half-stripped of her culture.”
In free verses jazzy yet exacting in imagery and thought, ahmad explores the tension between the burden of heritage and fierce pride in tradition. The poet’s daughter reminds her of the power that language, especially naming, has to bind, to heal: “she’s giving part of my name to her own child, / looping us into that intricate tapestry of women’s names / singing themselves.”
Through gripping narratives, indelible character portraits, and the interplay of cultural and family history, ahmad enfolds readers in the strong weave of a common humanity. Her brilliant and endlessly prolific generation of metaphor shows us that language can gather from any life experience—searing or joyful—“the necessary kindling / that will light our way home.”
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