Redmond, an Xpress “Best of WNC” Hall-of-Fame winner, is a prolific poet and has recorded several CDs of her fiery work. But there’s something about the quiet introspection of the print page – poetry read in silence (instead of heard or watched) is an intimate experience solely between the reader and the book. With Sun, Redmond moves from the realm of performance poet to that of an author. Here, her words stand on their own, the measured white space guiding the reader through a thicket of metaphors and sharply-drawn imagery.
“I wilted sickly and indifferent under the South Carolina sun. / Jeffery always understood the heat and the hood / like he was born with the taste of sweet tea on his lips / and the drawl of vowels blooming from his tongue,” Redmond writes in “Hood High,” a piece about her brother, Jeffery Redmond (who contributed a song to Redmond’s 2003 recording, Monumental).
Redmond is known for writing rooted in family, personal history, African-American ancestry and the celebration of life. This translates well to the powerful spoken word performance, but on the page there’s the possibility that emotive translates to emotional; reflections of family can become overly-sentimental.
Happily, Sun finds Redmond veering away from cliché and tapping into new descriptions and fresh reference points. In “Step-Sister” she writes, “You step firm even when you are afraid, / when you can’t find the perfect thingamajiggy from Ikea / to get your life together” and “You ride hard even though you have an EZ pass.” When Redmond weaves pop culture and humor into her earthy, strong-woman repertoire, she’s at her best. The balance of ancient and modern, stoic and savvy take these poems from admirable to relateable.
Such is the case with “Poetic Fate,” in which the writer considers her daughter’s mathematic proficiency in relation to her own right-brained aesthetic. “I am the subjective test queen / absolutely ruling on essay questions, / where I can wax my poetic heart out,” Redmond writes.
But that doesn’t mean Sun veers too far from Redmond’s established themes. A significant portion of the poems are dedicated to family members, ancestors and inspirational figures. There’s also plenty of material nodding to Redmond’s African heritage and her desire to keep alive the triumphs and sufferings of those who went before. “A Slave Named Patience” is a powerful example of the work for which this poet is known. The opening passage reads, “This must be how irony swims, / an insatiable mouth, wide with suckling. / I am pulled to it every time, / to these ungrounded stories.”
While fans of Redmond have likely been waiting excitedly for this latest installment of the poet’s work, newcomers to poetry would also be wise to give the book a chance. While every page may not hit the spot, Redmond’s turn-of-phrase, lush Southern imagery and musings about her own experiences as a mother make this book a worthwhile read.
Glenis Redmond reads and signs copies of Under the Sun at Malaprop’s on Friday, Aug. 29. The 7 p.m. event is free. Info: 254-6734.
—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter