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Honeyfish by Lauren K. Alleyne

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Honeyfish confronts life and death. The collection begins and ends with poems that memorialise and mourn the deaths of African Americans who have died at police hands, though to call them poems of protest would simplify their exploration of what life means in relation to death. It is a collection whose architecture works to make each poem, beautiful in their singular grace, add up to much more than the sum of their individual parts. Thus, the poems that explore the complexities of a life that involves the dislocations of migration, the pain of racism and misogyny and the sometimes fraught complications of love and family life speak all the more strongly of the value of a determined engagement with life because of their relationship to the poems that address the suddenness of death. The joyful memory of the Couva swimming pool of childhood, “filled with us/ —black children shrieking/ our joy in a haze of sun; our lifeguard,/ Rodney, his skin flawless/and gleaming—black as fresh oil” takes on both an additional vibrancy and a darkening of innocence in the contrasts it makes. This is also a poetry of moving plainness, where rightness of word choice and elegance of rhythm makes one notice only belatedly how rarely the poems engage with metaphor or simile. As in “Elegy for Tamir”, the power comes from directness, where she tells the slain child, “your only synonym/ is beloved, blessed, child of the universe…” 

There is wisdom in Lauren Alleyne’s poems, but always of a wisely provisional kind. As she writes: “I wanted wisdom,/ but was given a journey”. It is no surprise that Honeyfish was awarded the 2018 Green Rose Prize awarded by New Issues Press at Western Michigan University.

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