Disclaimer: Please note I received a PDF of ‘The Dedicadas’ from the author in exchange for my honest review.
The Dedicadas by Reinfred Addo, does just what a chapbook should. It gives a taste of poetic promise, leaving the reader keen to see what the poet will go on to do. There are a range of poetic styles, and topics. However, Addo’s voice is clear throughout giving the work a sense of cohesivity that often is lacking from similar sized chapbooks.
Due to Addo’s previous experience of design it is a pleasingly laid out chapbook, with nothing to distract from the force of the poems. I read it as a PDF, but am sure that if printed it would have that perfect feeling of being concise enough to whet the appetite, yet with plenty of poetic body to ensure that all the senses get to engage.
I must admit I prefer slightly more form focused poetry, yet I found the poems generally had a strong sense of flow and only occasionally felt loose and unstructured. In many ways, such considerations do not really matter, for although a few poems do feel like they could be tweaked to tighten them up, they all address topics in an insightful way.
Having read the collection, I have been changed. That is what poetry should do, as without address topics they are just empty words. Addo, uses each poem well to explore and develop ideas of identity, family, and language, and I would very surprised if anyone could read this chapbook without re-evaluating how they think of some aspect of those topics.
I particularly enjoyed the sonic creativity of ‘Twas There, On The Lee. The use of invented (for want of a better term) words gives a chance for the poem, and reader, to consider speech for what it fundamentally is: a sequence of sounds that somehow have meaning encoded into them. Poetry is perfectly placed in that intersection, between the purely sonic nature of music and the purely written nature of text, to explore how sound relates to meaning.
With poetry, even the most formal styles intended not to be read aloud, you have metre and sonic effects such as rhyme. Ultimately these are just terms used to describe how the sounds uttered can emphasise meaning, or add a sense of lyrical completion to tie disparate sections of meaning together. Reinfred Addo’s background as a speech-language pathologist, brings a fresh perspective to how sound and poetry are inherently entwined.
This focus on speech is seen through the chapbook. Multiple poems play with language and the reader’s expectation. This does not only extend to swapping between registers, but between sociolects, to give a keen sense of Addo’s personal experiences, and how he fits into his society, and how his sense of identity is, at points, conflicting with the sociolects he is forced to adopt. This dichotomy between the spectrum of identities people hold, and the range of sociolects people code-switch between, is explored most clearly in English C.
It might sound rather earnest but Addo treats his subjects with a restrained touch. There is clearly immense learning behind the treatment of language, but it is worn lightly. In this way it never strays into the preachy or overtly didactic, instead along side very pertinent considerations of language and racism there are humorous twists. In English C, as Addo is highlighting the ridiculousness of assuming someone who comes from Ghana, which happens to have English as its official language, will be bad at it and need remedial classes, there is a touch of levity. Addo remarks how Ghana has embraced “Queen’s English and / the whole 9 yar—pardon me, 8.2 metres…”
This provides a bit of levity, yes, but also clearly demonstrates that the idea of English as a language with a single correct form is truly risible. That idea, that language should not be gatekept and is always going to evolve and be played with in different ways by different people, is clear through the chapbook.
Yet there is a flipside. People who speak in certain ways are often exempted from the worse of prejudice, or seen as being good just for their language, when those who speak in another way are often seen as being badly educated, or even to not quite fit in their own country. Reinfred Addo is considering the American context, but such issues are present across the English-speaking world.
As with any debut chapbook, you get the feeling that this is like the tip of an iceberg. It would be well worth keeping an eye on Reinfred Addo, to see what he writes next. Of course, there is a slightly unfinished sense to the work. At points this heightens the effect, as all the poems are very personal and so that hint of not quite being fully polished adds to the emotional urgency. Yet at other points it feels like diamonds in the rough, waiting for those imperfections and distracting surrounding to be polished away.
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