Elevate Difference

So Much Things to Say: 100 Calabash Poets

Each May for the past ten years, poets from all over the globe converge in Jamaica for the Calabash International Literary Festival. So Much Things to Say: 100 Calabash Poets brings together the work of poets known and unknown who have read at the Festival or are Calabash Writer’s Workshop Fellows. The 100 poems in this vibrant anthology are organized into sections by length, and inspired by the editors’ intention that the book be enjoyed in a flexible manner, I took great pleasure in sampling poems at random and finding breathtaking imagery, emotional tone, meaning, and joy in each piece.

The voices of the colonized, the war-torn, the oppressed, and the hopeful shine in this collection of poems that are political, visceral, inspired, sorrowful, courageous, and essentially, beautifully human. In Li-Young Lee’s “The Children’s Hour,” Lee captures all of the above. With armed soldiers at the door, an elder narrator advises the children in shape-shifting ("Sister, quick. Change into a penny.") and gives forbearance to survive the assault:

Don’t listen when they promise sugar. _ _Don’t come out until evening, _ _or when you hear our mother weeping to herself.

“10 Haiku” by Sonia Sanchez is a prime example of the fluid, timeless, earthy rhythm of many of the Calabash poems:

as you drummed your hands kept reaching for God

One of the longer poems, Tim Seibles' “The Last Poem About Race” is a departure from the more organic imagery and tackles the complexity of being mixed race personally, in relationship, and as a society:

I never want to think being American is impossible, but the truth is

some silly mothafuckas still fly Confederate flags and maybe it’s all _ _too much for any one man.

In his sparkling introduction, Kwame Dawes most perfectly and poetically sums up the spirit of the Calabash Festival: “At once you are in a timeless place in which the spoken word represents an incantatory ritual that creates and affirms community... Imagine stories dropping like seeds into the ground and growing rapidly and wildly all around you.”

Fortunately for those for whom an annual sojourn to Jamaica isn’t necessarily possible, that enchantment is immediately accessible in this collection. Indeed the story of the festival and of this anthology coming together in just one month is a testament to the magic that is spun at Calabash each year, and I prize my Advance Uncorrected Proof of So Much Things to Say like a collector’s item.

Written by: Matsya Siosal, July 13th 2010