salt. by Nayyirah Waheed | Review

Evlin DuBose

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Content Warning: Discrimination

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If there was ever confusion on how to break boundaries, shatter language, and rend the hearts of readers, Nayyirah Waheed is here to make it look effortless.

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Having risen to fame as an Instagram poet, Nayyirah Waheed is a poet of muscular talent. Her debut collection is over a hundred pages of poetic minimalism exemplifying why brevity is the soul of wit — and why diverse voices are more urgent than ever. The title, salt. is as laconic and visual as the collection itself. Her poems are all of a unified style and thematic arsenal; each poem expands on the last, spins more out of her elemental motifs. Fire, water, stars, and salt may never read the same again. Nayyirah weaves these motivic threads into laments for children stolen from a colonised land, reckoning with their colonised skin and colonised language. Trauma pervades the book, and in it the vow that the inherited pain must end with you. 

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Although published in 2013, this rallying cry is beyond timely for 2020. As Dickinson wrote, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.” Nayyirah is the slant truth of the Black Lives Matter generation, a command to do our soul-wrenching “salt work”, and end the pain with us. One need not have lived experience to resonate with hers. Her purview covers the cross-sections of gender, race, sexuality, and heritage in a way that is playful, intelligent, visceral, and devastating. Indulge her a few pages, and she’ll rattle your soul. It’s a pithy read, knocked out in the space of an evening, but poetry is often a hard sell for most because its power lies in the speaking. It is not meant to be merely read; hers is the sort of poetry the eye can gloss over. If you have the courage (or the quiet space), read her work aloud, and see if her writing doesn’t come alive like music.