Title: I Name Me Name: Poetry and Prose by Opal Palmer Adisa.
Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 2008. 222 pages.
Reviewed by: Mary Hanna [2pics: I name me name, inset: opal palmer]
PULL QUOTE: Adisa Palmer is a fine story-teller and she has an ear for the dramatic and inspiring. She can tell the most painful story in a manner that juices its meaning for her as a wordsmith, and she can record in a manner that is self-aware of the importance of her own history in the making.
Opal Palmer Adisa is a writer's writer. This book of poetry and prose is a tribute to all her foremothers and -fathers, to the process of becoming and being a writer, to the tradition of black writing that has helped to form her. She writes with assurance and pleasure, she reads with style and grit. Palmer Adisa is a wonder to read and a joy to discover.
not be able
stone into bread
water into wine
but we knead
oppression into struggle
(Amandala: For Winnie Mandela)
Writing to Phyllis Wheatley, Mary Prince, and Mary Seacole as well as Nat Turner and others, Palmer Adisa discovers that "Finding I-Self" is a journey into history and the personal. She writes to find her name, that most precious of knowledges. She writes to give voice to the downtrodden, the abused, the silenced: "i-self free/i body i own again/i name saartjie/i name saartjie baartman/ i inna i-self again" ("Say My Name"). Just so, Palmer Adisa gives back dignity to the 'Venus Hottentot'. She does it in clear, cool verse that burns with pride and suffering. As Jack Hirschman, Poet Laureate of San Francisco, observes: "With an evermore intense and sage lucidity, Opal Palmer Adisa has written a marvellous score of Soul both in quest of the Name of her "Iself" and in assertive affirmation of a whole generation of African-American struggles."
Autobiographical essays follow the section of poetry that provide fascinating background to Palmer Adisa's journey to become the writer and poet that she is. From 1989 to 2005, these essays cover the growth of a feisty little girl with strong desires to protect herself and her loved ones who becomes the brave revolutionary teacher and skilled writer that Palmer Adisa is now. She claims her past, her parents' stories, her memories of sexual abuse by family friends, and puts all into the mix of Becoming. Adisa Palmer is a fine story-teller and she has an ear for the dramatic and inspiring. She can tell the most painful story in a manner that juices its meaning for her as a wordsmith, and she can record in a manner that is self-aware of the importance of her own history in the making.
Beginning with the memory of having her hair plaited by her mother in a ritual that is sacred to the small child she was, Palmer Adisa tells the story of how she "became the stories my mother told about me". She writes a searing indictment of those who take advantage of young children and sexually abuse them:
It got so that whenever I was home alone, and I heard footsteps I would hide in some corner hoping it wasn't R or Mr C or some other man who felt secure enough to pull my panty aside and dig his finger into me. I learned from talking to other girls my age, and from overhearing some of the older girls talking, that Mr C also pinched their breasts, rubbed his penis on them, and finger-f**ked them took and just like they never told their parents. None of us told our mothers.
Palmer Adisa blames the raising of children to be 'seen and not heard' for this phenomenon. She follows this essay with a piece called "She scrape her knee: The theme of my work" in which she speaks of her writing against the grain, taking her writing identity from those who would fight for justice: "As a writer I don't set out to scrape anyone's knees. I do not want to see anyone have to buckle under and stumble; I do not want to see anyone have to rub cocoa butter on his or her knees to fade away the dark crust. I do not want to see anyone have to grit teeth, shrug off the resistance, and walk on stiff legs. But alas, even in my writing I find that both my readers and I scrape knees."
She is aware of the combative and radical nature of her work.
The closing section of the text is a beautiful tribute in three essays to the scholars Toni Cade Bambara, Barbara Christian, and June Jordan. These essays sing the work and the praises of these fine writers who helped to forge the theory behind black women's writing. Palmer Adisa pays them heartfelt due and closes her text on a note of solidarity and hope.
Opal Palmer Adisa is an award-winning poet and prose writer. She has eleven books to her credit, including the novel It Begins With Tears (1997). A teacher, diversity trainer, literary critic, and mother of three children, she is also the host of KPFA Radio Parenting show in Berkeley, California. She is a full professor of creative writing and literature at California College of the Arts and has been published in over 200 journals, anthologies and other publications, including Essence Magazine. She was born in Jamaica.
Causes Opal Adisa Supports
California Poets in the Schools
Homeless Shelter for Pregnant Women