By DéLana R.A. Dameron
University of South Carolina Press (April 2017)
91 pages, paperback
Palmetto Poetry Series
Reviewed by Jennifer Bartell
DéLana R.A. Dameron’s Weary Kingdom challenges the boundaries of home. The poet is mapmaker and cartographer in Dameron’s full-length follow up to her debut collection, How God Ends Us (2009, USC Press). A native of South Carolina, Dameron now calls Brooklyn home. She wrote the collection when she lived in Harlem, but a southern press published it. Likewise, the speaker in these poems straddle both worlds of the North and the South with all its complexities and juxtapositions.
Home is not a place with an established identity or recognizable face in these poems. Dameron discards the so-called comforts of home and re-configures them in this kingdom. There is a search of belonging and the desire to be defined, which the speaker deflects and explores, questions and embraces. The complicated and strained love from a lover or mother has a place here, as well as racism. The “Migration Story” poem captures how racism follows the black body wherever it may go. To be black is to be nigger on all sides of the Mason Dixon line.
The title “Dear —” appears 11 times. Each letter takes its own form with some resembling prose poems, and others rendered as one long stanza, or in tercets. All these epistles, except one, bare no name. The letters may be letters home, or to a second home, or to an idea of home that no longer exists, or to a home that has never existed or will never exist.
Anne Sexton’s Bestiary U.S.A. and Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris inspired some of the poems. Dameron takes the reader through a journey in which she maps a kingdom full of not only flora and fauna but also the beasts of the field/sea. There are metaphors and symbols for animals in poems such as “The Perch,” “Coyote,” “Io Moth,” “Blue Crab,” “Beetle,” and “Amoeba.”
In the titular poem, Dameron begins “I want to love this city.” Home is not home. Or is it? Is it shifting between the grandfather’s kudzu-covered shed or a crowded bus in NYC? The poem “Transfer” offers not an answer, but a glimpse at re-thinking the question: “You love & loathe / the city, vow to snake / under its skin.”
Jennifer Bartell is a poet and educator in Columbia, SC and holds fellowships from Callaloo and The Watering Hole.