Rock | Salt | Stone sprays life-preserving salt through the hard realities of rocks, stones, and rockstones used as anchors, game pieces, or weapons. The manuscript travels through Africa, the Caribbean, and the USA, including cultures and varieties of English from all of those places. The poems center the experience of the outsider, whether she is an immigrant, a woman, or queer. Sometimes direct, sometimes abstract, these poems engage different structures, forms, and experiences while addressing the sharp realities of family, sexuality, and immigration.
“There are many points in this poem where the conversation subtly moves towards the internal, then stirs into spaces of Out, brave and controversial. This collection closes with beautiful pieces that speak to the honest erotic with the backbone of Audre Lorde, while visiting awhile with the blunt, lower cased love of Lucille Clifton’s prose. Throughout the experience, you can find her stopping every few poems to enliven our senses. Likening sex to food such as “salt, white corn tortilla chips, for instance, or popcorn that is not overcome with butter;” while instructing on spells of irresistble love.”
“Because bodies are not rocks but get weighed down by them when tossed into the ocean to drown. Because bodies are not consumed by mouths but are covered in salty sweat and can be beaten like meat. Because bodies have mouths but can not always speak without being stoned and sometimes the mouths make the wrong shapes and so the bodies become demons then ghosts then demons then ghosts again. Because the bodies wash up on the shore and wash up still. Because all things that are life become death like water or salt or stone or rock or other bodies and when not all the bodies fit together huddled on the rock, and so as some bodies cling to the hard surface with their bruised fingers and open mouths, other bodies shove those bodies off, without blinking, because blinking would be memory, and here, in the unraveling hardness and conjuration of demons, memory is not always honest and words are not always true.”
“King (Island Bodies), an accomplished scholar and performer, opens her formally daring verse debut with a version of “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean,” recasting it to address Afro-Caribbean diasporas, and starring Yoruba deities Eshu, Oshun, and Ogun. “My brawn it belongs to the Ogun/ my blood it flows into the sea/ the two meet inside a black body/ and whisper you fight to be free,” runs one of several verses before the newly meaningful call to “Bring/ Back.” It is representative of several defining elements of the book, among them a deep engagement with history and mythology, a sense of play, and formal techniques that require the reader to hear—not just read—the poem. King teases out the tension between poem as print object and performance score, not only through the poems’ music, but also through unconventional uses of the page and typography, extreme lineation (“you/ no/ me/ no/ us/ yes/ we/ then/ who”), as well as through onomatopoeia, misspellings (“Her genus lies in the fat that her writing perfectualy invects the reeder in”), and the incorporation of other languages, including Wolof and several Caribbean vernaculars. King uses English while writing beyond and against the bounds of its conventions, and also to foreground the speaking, hearing body—and importantly, the black, queer, female body—as the site where language originates and lands.”
If you only read one book of poems this year, treat yourself to this collection. Dr. King’s imagery and language draws on different cultures, African, Carribean, Queer, and American, and folklore. Her poems are lyrical and rich, and her playfulness with language is apparent even as she addresses subjects that are heartbreaking, the positive energy of these poems shines through.
These poems are so present, so immediate, that reading this book feels like getting to see King read them. That she is here with me in the room, laughing into my ear, or crying, or screaming, or shushing me, shushing me quietly to sleep, telling me to let my body stretch out, to sigh. The poems are spells, and I’m lucky to witness King conjure, cast, and shape-shift them into being.