When my skin itches, and my fingers twitch, wanting to slam closed the book with a jealous flourish, and rush to my notebook to write, and write, and write – that’s when I know I’m reading good writing.
I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to do that reading ‘Elephant’, but it happened too often. I had to force myself to read through the book without abandoning the crisp pages in a fit of envy, consumed by the inspiration to write with the boldness and unflinching conviction that Siana has. But I managed it, and I am better for it.
This collection of poems is not hastily put together. It is a carefully crafted story taking you on a journey that is both personal and universal, political and delicately intimate. Siana’s voice rings clear off the page to the point where there were times when I found myself clicking out loud, as if I was sitting in an audience watching her live on stage. I have always had reservations about spoken word moving from life to the page. Sometimes the magic and skill is lost in translation, as the subtle nuances of a poet’s performance can never be adequately communicated within the confines of black and white written language, but reading ‘Elephant’, I found myself still carried away – it works.
I arrogantly thought I was “over” poetry. Having decided to hang up my own poet’s pen a couple of years ago, I thought I had outgrown it – “it’s just not my thing anymore”. So let me swallow my pride and admit I was so wrong. Reading ‘Elephant’ reminded me of why I first loved poetry, and the power that it has to communicate and connect grand ideas and intimate narratives on a level that no other writing really can. Siana weaves in threads of political activism, personal tragedy, the universal languages of love and heartbreak, quiet observations and so much more, to form a cohesive body of work. My personal suggestion is that you read the book start to finish first as a narrative, and then drop back in and out to read poems at your leisure, but feel free to disregard that directive and read as you wish, either way the words speak.
‘Elephant’ is a lesson in using your voice. Each poem, whether it be the sweet kiss of four lines or a stomping multi-page manifesto, is unapologetic. Subject matter ranges from romantic betrayal to police brutality, from the strength of black womanhood to gentrification. Siana is not shying away from speaking on her experiences, talking through her pain, and airing out her anger and frustration – and it is truly liberating. I am inspired. I want my own megaphone to speak truth to power, I want my own sledgehammer to free the secrets rotting behind walls of silence and complicity. Siana has set an example for all of us, and I have heard the call and I am following.
(I know you didn’t ask, but do you want to know my personal favourites? OK, OK, I’ll tell you: ‘The Stranger’, ‘Sip’, and ‘Pundersons Gardens’. Now, quick, quick, go find your own.)