‘Washed Over’ Will Open Your Eyes to The Complexities of Identity and Language

Disclaimer: Please note I was sent a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

This is not the first time we’ve featured Ghanaian-American writer Reinfred Addo’s work at Coffee Time Reviews. You can read more about Reinfred’s author journey in our Author Spotlight interview with him:

Washed Over…or Things Dedicated, Reinfred’s latest poetry collection, resonated with me in many profound and almost unspeakable ways. From the connection between names and identity, to nationality and labels, to language and how we can bend it and play around with it to express ourselves, Washed Over is a eulogy to the long-neglected colours in ourselves.

The collection compiles five parts, each exploring the nature of humanity, what is and isn’t perceived as natural, the nature of obsession and devotion and the antithesis between them, and circles back to humanity towards the end.

The opening poem, On Names…Dziedzorm, sets the tone for the entire book, with the poet setting out to explain where his middle name comes from, how it’s pronounced, what it means and all the different ways in which it can be written. It’s a declaration of identity: this is who I am, this is the first thing you need to know about me.

Names are the ancestral pillars of identity. And the ugly truth of our world is that people who don’t have Western-known names are bound to prejudice, or simply laziness to try to respect how to correctly pronounce their names. That commitment to accurate pronunciation is quickly being erased from the Western conscience.

On Names…Dziedzorm ends with “Long live happiness!” further solidifying the general failure to recognise foreign names, while the poet resigns to the English meaning of his name: I am happy. But my interpretation is that, in the end, it’s all about keeping other people happy. We twist and adapt our non-Western names to the western lack of effort. It’s the easy thing to do. 

“I am Happy” is what they call me,

Happiness is my birthright.

Washed Over also covers themes of race and police brutality, in a very gentle but sharp way, which keeps the tone of the collection while also sending a strong, important message. The entire collection has a prosaic nature to it: it’s like the author takes you through different micro-episodes of his life from which he drew meaning.

It’s not overly edited or overly stripped down, the poetry flows as a story. It’s an admirable thing to be able to keep the campfire-tale style of the book while also covering heavy themes. 

Macroaggressions…Get Stabbed or Get Punished perfectly encapsulates the main message and tone of the book: this is my reality as a Ghanaian man living in America. This is what happened to me on a random school day. This is why I’m telling you this story. Simple, easy-to-grasp meaning that packs a punch right from the title.

Well, principal said I provoked the girl to threaten me with

that knife, meaning he thought there was plenty 

of blame for both sides, code that he wanted to punish me too.

He gave me in-school detention and musta felt he

was being really gracious ‘cos he gave me a warning: next time,

my punisher probably wouldn’t be quite this lenient.

The collection ends with Life’s Students, a poem that beautifully and completely honours life in all its glory and people’s cohabitating within our little sphere of the universe. I believe the true power in Reinfred’s writing is his ability to bring beauty back to poetry as a craft, while not shying away from the uglier parts of the world that we need to look straight in the eye.

I’m awake in a flow of cosmic dust

and of learning and of beings, and they 

are here and I am here and we are stirring.

If you read poetry and if you don’t read poetry, Washed Over is the poetry you need to read. The hope, the serenity and the strength it invites us to draw from unity with our own kin are rare feelings I’ve encountered in contemporary poetry. 

What Reinfred Dziedzorm Addo truly does best is marry truth and beauty. And as a fellow modern poet, I can vouch that’s an impressive feat for our craft.

You can purchase Washed Over…or Things Dedicated here. For the first year of publication, some of the proceeds will be donated to Dopen Mic, the Civic Media Center, and the Library Of Africa & The African Diaspora (LOATAD).

Published by Eliza Lita

Founder and editor-in-chief: Coffee Time Reviews. Freelance writer and Higher Ed comms person.

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