Poetry & Poets

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Book Review: Honeyfish by Lauren K. Alleyne

“These poems love. Prophesize. Return us to our beginnings. To days that we want to remember. Or forget. But don’t. Thus in our sister’s memory, we survive in the luxury of dying. The courage of loving. The re-imagining of our souls for another generation.” says Sonia Sanchez in her blurb on the book cover of Honeyfish by Lauren K. Alleyne.

Living a predictable end is indeed a luxury which many in this world today ripped by wars aren’t able to enjoy. Sometimes, it is Syria, and sometimes, it is the society and then the soul fraught and agonized by intolerance and racism. In Honeyfish, you are in an undersea glass tunnel observing a speeding world through the lens of ordinariness overwhelmed by the multiplicity of meanings.

Honeyfish by Lauren K. AlleyneYes, since Body Electric, contemporary English poetry around the world has dissected grief like any amphibian on the laboratory table.  But if dissection is a cuisine, Honeyfish is gallant; inflected for tenderness and compassion.  The collection is a surgical scalpel that cuts through light and brings out its shadow, cuts through the darkness, and assesses the viscosity of dire moments. In “Still Life with Empty Beach,” you can see the speaker facing immense waves of emptiness. Here, she talks about “distance” as if a human body. She talks about the molecular composition of “distance.” She shows what we humans are composed of — other than flesh and blood; it is the abysmal “space.”

 

Still Life with Empty Beach

There is so much emptiness here:
the two chairs marooned on an empty deck,
the foot of space like a chasm between them;

the respectful distance the thatch of wild
grass keeps from their bodiless frames;
The frames themselves made of taut planks —

each holding itself apart from its neighbor;
each plank made of a million separate splinters,
some splintered from themselves. And deeper,

molecules, atoms, electrons circling nuclei
they never bump into. Everything moving
closer, closing in, but never completely.

What I’m saying is we are made of spaces
no thing can breach, bridge or heal —
not longing, not touch, not even love.

 

Inescapable fury and grief comingle in the poems of Honeyfish by Lauren K. Alleyne. In “Killed Boy, Beautiful World,” it reinstates, “How slender the tether / between life and not-life.” There is a haunting spire that breaches the skies and bleeds the truth of living on the readers. Honeyfish by Lauren K. Alleyne is a treatise abandoned by abundance, but precision sharp as the edges of a minority. The poet treads the narrative, sometimes, as an ordinary speaker with in-depth insight of life, and sometimes, as a sorceress beating language to some mythical creature. Below, I quote another from Honeyfish that has left me in the stable of my reflection; I hear the neigh of the night. In this poem, Lauren K. Alleyne is an astronaut exploring the chasms of  Gauguin’s Le Cheval Blanc.

What Night Knows

After Gauguin’s Le Cheval Blanc

Some women ride horses.
Some women are horses.
Some horses are wolves
Who have lost their teeth,
And are ridden by women.
Some wolves are horses
Ridden wild with dreams.
Some women are dreams
In the shape of horses
Free of the ghost of wolves.
Some ghosts are women,
Their bent air a kind of riding.
Some women ride dreams
And bend the air, freeing
The ghosts and the wolves
And the horses.

 

The core of the book has tectonic parts; I, II, and III. By the end of your reading, you’ll experience the coming together of each one of them in a wholesome spectacle. Part III, which I have relished the most, is a buffet of soul-quenching queries that made me nervous with anticipation and appreciation, simultaneously. In this part, the poem, “Home in the Key of Absence,” I would have liked it as “Home as the Key of Absence.” She took me through the experience allowing me to reimagine home as the key of absence; you unlock absence when you are home (to yourself, within your self). The title poem, Honeyfish too appears in this section, and I cannot resist the temptation of quoting these lines from the poem –

“The catch is so fresh, each bite is blue—
the sea still in it, and settling on your tongue

like prayer. This is what it means to eat,
you think, to abandon utensils for the grace

of fingers, to hold flesh against flesh,
hands slick with what will become”

Honeyfish abounds in grace and the torturous thrum of reality. It has taken me less than a month to become a silverfish in the warmth of its covers that shelter richly-felt, deeply affectionate expressions of a woman-of-color as an immigrant. The vulnerability of the title poem is so resonant that as an Asian, I can feel it as a flute polished tho lull the village into a peaceful sleep. The poem, like other poems, holds a reader close to their bosom and transmits the heartbeats of a heretic. A truly uplifting and compassionate read. It is time that you shouldn’t hold back from exploring Honeyfish by Lauren K. Alleyne beyond my words; alone, you will live the book as a fervent prayer.


Lauren K. Alleyne is the author of Difficult Fruit (Peepal Tree Press, 2014) and Honeyfish, (2018 Green Rose Prize, New Issues 2019). Her work has been widely published in journals and anthologies such as The Atlantic, Ms. Muse, Women’s Studies QuarterlyGuernicaThe Caribbean Writer, and Crab Orchard Review, among others. Her work has earned several honors and awards, most recently first place in 2016 Split This Rock Poetry Contest and a 2017 Philip Freund Prize in Creative Writing for excellence in publication. Alleyne was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago and is currently Assistant Director of the Furious Flower Poetry Center and an Associate Professor of English at James Madison University.


Linda Ashok is the author of ‘whorelight‘ (Hawakal, 2017) and the editor of Poetry&Poets. She is the founding editor of Best Indian Poetry, publisher of RLFPA Editions, and funds the annual RL Poetry Award since 2013.  To learn more about her published works; poetry, essays, interviews, etc., visit lindaashok.com.


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