Testify

Simone John. Octopus Books, $14.95 trade paper (82p) ISBN 978-0-9861811-4-6
To testify is to bear witness and refuse erasure, as John shows in this arresting debut, which captures the horrors of white supremacy in America. Utilizing figurative language, African-American vernacular, and raw emotion, John incorporates elements of legal transcripts, hip-hop references, and personal memories into her poems. She uses Rachel Jeantel’s testimony during George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin as a unifying thread that emphasizes the dehumanization of black people through physical, mental, and emotional violence. The poem “Then What Happened” recalls the last time Jeantel heard her friend alive, ending with the ominous line, “Suddenly the phone hung up. The phone shut off.” The finality of that phone call leads into the next poem, “Back Seats,” in which John points out the expendable nature of black lives as dictated by a racist society. “We know we age in dog years. Seen friends’/ lives bookended by brackets before turning 21,” she writes. Not all is bleak here, as evidenced by the joys found in family and community, but John’s depiction of the black experience is too often marked by a fleeting sense of freedom, a momentary relief from an almost routine grief. In John’s work, the people left behind, survivors and witnesses alike, preserve the memories of lost loved ones and serve as their living eulogies. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/2017
Release date: 08/01/2017
Genre: Fiction
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