Review by Margaret Fieland
– This is a book comprised largely of letters addressed “Dear Continuum”, directed to emerging poets who will carry on the work of poetry and social activism. It contains six sections: an introduction, the nineteen letters, two essays, one about being a mother and the other about the death of poet Amiri Baraka, Notes, References, and Gratitude. The letters are addressed to younger poets about author Mariahdessa Ekere Tallie’s approach to writing, about what writing means to her, about the place of poetry in the world and in her life, about creativity and what she does with it — and what one should do with it. It also includes four reading lists as well as a list of poets she mentions in the first letter.
She writes in the first letter: “Being an artist is beautiful and it is hard. Envisioning peace in a country that is perpetually at war is a challenge. Moving my pen helps me maintain my faith in peace, love, and justice. Seeing younger artists dedicated to art and liberation inspires me to no end. If it were not for the Continuums of the world, I would have put away my pen a long time ago.”
I loved this book. I picked it up one morning and finished it before lunch. I couldn’t put it down. I am a writer and poet, although I am far from young, so in a sense this puts me squarely in the audience for whom the book is intended. But this book will speak to anyone involved in the creative process: writer, artist, musician, or anyone for whom social justice and the political process are priorities.
The author stands firmly in the activist camp when it comes to writing poetry. I like her attitude. She writes that she is either celebrating joy or bearing witness to pain. She writes toward the end of the first letter: “Publish those mamas bringing their babies to readings, those poets whose works are in anthologies that they read in the food stamp office, those lettered poets who can’t make the rent, those poets with a day job who organize free workshops and salons who never lose their accents, the ones cast off in a spoken word ghetto because they actually dare connect with an audience.”
This is the kind of writer I want to read.
I found her words on her creative process interesting. She writes: “I’m not a person with any hard and fast rules…” and neither does she prescribe any for the young writers she is addressing. Instead, she urges them to find their own way, their own path through the mire of creativity and writing. She writes that she consistently journals, but admits that there have been long stretches of time when she hasn’t written poetry. Her advice for poets is to read. She urges, “I read the works of writers whose reasons for putting pen to paper were similar to mine.” And she backs up her advice with four reading lists, plus a list of poets she mentions in the first letter – and whose names are echoed at the end of the book.
One of the strengths of the book is the strong persona of Continuum that comes through the letters. This is no anonymous, faceless anybody. Tallie references the letters she’s received when writing hers, as, for example when she says, at the start of letter six: “I wish you light, absolute light, while you grapple with the loss of your friend.” There is a letter, in fact, in which she mentions meeting Marjorie Tesser, the publisher of Mom Egg, and it is one of the letters in which she speaks about how profoundly motherhood has affected both her life and her writing.
I found this book to be both engaging and energizing, readable and inspiring. I enjoyed going over the letters and rereading my favorite bits. I liked reading about Tallie’s creative process and the point of view she takes to her poetry. It made me want to run to the library or the bookstore and check out or buy piles of books by the authors she mentions here, some of whom I’ve read and some of whom I haven’t. It made me want to haul out one of my notebooks and get back to journaling. It got me thinking about my own writing and my own process for creating poems. If you are a writer, if you are interested in social justice, if the creative process speaks to you, then you need to read this book.
Letters To A Poet Crafting Liberation
by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
Grand Concourse Press July 1, 2015
Paperback, 89 pages
Margaret Fieland lives and works in suburban Massachusetts. She is the author of three science fiction novels and a book of poetry. A chapter book and another science fiction novel are due out later this year.