Book Review: Soul Poems for My Sistas

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by Michele Washington

    Publication Date:
    List Price: $13.95
    Format: Paperback, 96 pages
    Classification: Poetry
    ISBN13: 9780980131000
    Imprint: To Be Determined
    Publisher: To Be Determined
    Parent Company: To Be Determined
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    Read a Description of Soul Poems for My Sistas

    Book Reviewed by Felicia Pride

    Poetry is one literary form that far too many attempt with the misguided notion that it is easy to write. Between the length or the ability to rhyme within a poem, some have approached the genre without much allegiance to craft.

    In reading Michele Washington's slim poetry collection Soul Poems for My Sistas, it's obvious that she's a writer who respects the complexity of the genre and her passion for its power exudes through her work.

    Soul Poems for My Sistas is partly a love letter to women of all colors that is one minute reminiscent such as in the first poem of the collection, ’Back in the Day,’ the next moment, celebratory, like in ’Sass,’ and the next instance, cautionary, such as in ’Pray for Yourself.’ Washington wants to see women prosper. Her artistic concerns concentrate on wellness, empowerment, and community, and she's capable of conjuring up the no-nonsense tone of Mary J. Blige or the elder wisdom of a church matriarch.

    Divided into four sections, the collection also reserves space for the brothers in poems like ’To My Takin-Care-of-Business Brother,’ which could have been sung by soulster Angie Stone following her musical dedication to black men. ’Pull Up Yo Pants,’ is a compassionate request to brothers that ends, ’’folks/so busy looking/at your fallin/pants, they will/not see the King/in you.’

    The bulk of the collection is heavily influenced by Washington's religious views and could be easily categorized as Christian poetry. But she doesn't forget a poet's weapons are words. For the most part, her verses are not strangled by overly sophisticated religious rhetoric, although some of the poems lack depth and struggle to lyrically envelope readers. However, one of the more stellar poems, ’Pray,’ follows a Christian woman who puts more faith in man than in God and exemplifies Washington's ability to tell a story with a provocative punch.

    The collection doesn't necessarily breathe new life into topics overly addressed by black poets such as African ancestry, hair politics, and the Big Momma archetype.  When riffing on black beauty in ’Beautiful People,’ Washington writes in predictable fashion:

    My people are a beautiful people.
    With full lips.
    Our brown, charcoal, mustard,
    colored bodies swing with
    the music

    Yet sprinkled within the collection are subtle, clever sociopolitical gems like ’Darren,’ about a 23-year-old who after surviving Hurricane Katrina is committed to living a fuller life. And in experimenting with diverse poetic styles including the haiku, ’Justice,’ which is fitting for America's current political climate, Washington writes:

    Justice for all
    Nations to heal and
    Acknowledge past wrongs

    ’Sonia's Song’ a dedication to poetess Sonia Sanchez, a former teacher of Washington who encouraged her to write, reflects the legacy nature of poetry where words passed down inspire future generations. While Washington is probably like many writers who aspire to reach the artistic heights of Sanchez, she can feel proud to know that her first collection moves and flows in the right direction.

    Read To Be Determined’s description of Soul Poems for My Sistas.